Rav Panchalingam

2 October 2013 — When we heard about a new software data tracking product for buildings that was taking the property industry by storm, we were intrigued and had to track it down.

Rise Technology, which produces Bitpool, is a Brisbane-based start up. That fact alone got us excited, because there’s not been a lot of good green news out of that state in recent times.

Next piece of intrigue was that Bitpool may be not quite cheap as chips, but it’s getting there.

And it can be loads of fun. Users can program it to do anything from measuring energy and water to how many people arrive at  work on bikes. And results can be used on Facebook, for instance, to compare with those of your friendly rivals interstate. Or next door.

We’d heard about the product from Australand’s sustainability manager Paolo Bevilacqua (see our recent article) who said Australand and Stockland were both trialling it, and that other property companies were getting interested.

Rise Technology turns out to be a classic tech start up story. Founder Rav Panchalingam, 27, set up the business in his living room just over two years ago, funding the operation exclusively from his own earnings – no venture capitalists, no government grants, he says.

Panchalingam describes the Bitpool as data collection and analysis platform using an HTML5 interface, which means it can be adapted to an iPad, iPhones or laptop, and explains its ease of use.

His background was with Schneider Electric, where he started as a 19-year-old funding his studies as a computer engineer, then moving into a project engineer role.

These days Panchalingam has upgraded to a regular office and he’s already considering some takeover offers.

He has five full-time staff as well as developers in the Ukraine, Russia and Hungary who pick up projects while Australia sleeps.

Among the staff is business development manager Michael Crook.

Michael Crook

Crook joined about 12 months after several years in the automotive industry and loves to talk up the way the product can engage customers. Its application is limited only by the client’s imagination, he says.

In one application the Gold Coast City Council is using Bitpool in a public foyer to monitor dam levels and how much energy the council’s solar panels are producing, right to the minute.

In an office building it could monitor how many people arrive at work by bicycles – using a swipe card to access the bike cages – and then maybe trade results with their interstate counterparts. Likewise with energy used or saved, recycling and so on.

“It can help offices or university campuses compete with each other,” Crook says. Results can be fed through Facebook.

“It’s bringing fun into environmental issues,” Crook says.

Crook says the tool has been popular with local councils and universities such as the universities of Queensland, Charles Darwin and Southern Queensland. But Domino’s Pizza has also jumped aboard. Stockland is also keen to use the system on its commercial and retirement property, he said.

“What we’re trying to do is bring it to everybody.”

An important benefit of the system is that it has a licence to use the NABERS algorithms in its readings and forecasts, along with the NABERS logo.

So how much does this little “black box” cost?

You purchase the unit outright for $1980, or pay subscription rates that start from $1 a day, with data tailored to individual needs, Crook says.

Does this mean it will bump off the sophisticated building management system that cost considerably more and have sucked up millions of dollars in investment, not to mention years of passionate work from their founders?

Not really, says Crook.

It’s a bit like the difference between a Mercedes and a Hyundai. The Hyundai comes along and makes a reasonable, useful car for the masses, but it’s still not a Mercedes.

“We’re trying to bring it down to the grass roots.”

How does it work?

He makes some big claims for the system. Bitpool, he says, has become “one of the fastest and most reliable energy data collection systems in the world”.

“It’s built using a hybrid of the latest Microsoft and open source technologies,” he says, ‘and the data acquisition hardware is based around The Raspberry Pi, a credit-card-sized single-board computer developed in the UK by the Raspberry Pi Foundation.

“This hardware installs into a building switchboard with low profile and low power consumption, and pushes data from connected electrical/water meters/BMS [building management systems] up into the Bitpool cloud service.

“We currently have over 130 million data records pushed into Bitpool from a number of prestige clients.”

Key is that with all this data in the cloud, Bitpool allows “very fast analytic and visualisation capabilities that have always been very difficult to do in standard commercial and industrial environments”.