- Sidewalk Labs unveiled a new tool Tuesday that it says will help commercial buildings manage energy use and reduce environmental impact. The tool, known as Mesa, uses real-time data and automation to optimize energy use.
- The kit, which is designed for easy installation in older and smaller office buildings, automatically manages heating and cooling; uses weather patterns and other external data to avoid over-heating or over-cooling a space; and can automatically turn off unused power outlets in a bid to reduce energy waste.
- Mesa, which has been piloted by Sidewalk Labs in two office buildings in New York City, gathers non-personal data and information to help manage energy consumption. The company said the toolkit went through a Responsible Data Use process ensuring it was designed with privacy and ethical implications in mind. Sidewalk Labs said the digital devices cannot identify any individual.
Sidewalk Labs was pursuing the Quayside smart city project in Toronto, but unexpectedly announced it was pulling out in May amid what CEO Daniel Doctoroff said at the time was "unprecedented economic uncertainty." When it withdrew from the project on the Toronto waterfront, Sidewalk Labs pledged to have several new tools and technological solutions to roll out in the future, partly driven by the insights the company gained from its work in the city and elsewhere.
In an interview, Sidewalk Labs' Editorial Director Eric Jaffe said the company is focused on helping cities solve issues of affordability and sustainability — solutions driven by technology.
"There's so many big, big challenges facing cities, it's hard to know where to focus," Jaffe said. "And so in thinking about the ones that are both big enough to matter, but also where technology and some of the urban innovations we're looking at to make a difference, that's where we really started to see that affordability and sustainability were these two general challenges that all cities face."
This tool comes as cities wrestle with the impacts of climate change and how they can reduce emissions in the commercial buildings sector, which along with transportation is responsible for the majority of those emissions. An increasing number of cities have passed laws setting energy benchmarks or reporting mandates for office buildings, with some like St. Louis now requiring energy performance targets.
But retrofitting old office buildings to try and hit those targets can be difficult. A report earlier this year from the Rocky Mountain Institute (RMI) and Urban Land Institute (ULI) found upgrades to Class B and C buildings, which are typically older and smaller, can be especially challenging as they do not have advanced building management capabilities, nor the financial muscle needed to make upgrades.
Rachel Steinberg, director of product management, and data scientist Jenny Chen wrote in a blog post that there has never been a "simple, plug-and-play, comprehensive energy-saving system for office spaces," and Mesa will look to change that.
Jaffe said this is one of a series of products Sidewalk Labs will look to roll out soon in a bid to help cities meet their climate goals. The company has sought to contribute insight and solutions on topics like city planning, curb management and street design as well as building using mass timber.
Sidewalk Labs plans to roll out more products in the future, including around "affordable electrification," partly driven by the kind of comprehensive planning process it went through in Toronto but also with one eye on a future where a suite of products can combine to solve a broad array of challenges.
"We're asking about how development informs our product, we think about it as a little bit of a cycle," Jaffe said. "We use a comprehensive development process like the one in Toronto, like we've done before, to generate ideas, but it works the other way too. You can put those ideas together and fit them together in ways that have bigger impacts than just one product might be able to do on its own."