Andrew is our CEO and Co-Founder, affectionately nicknamed our "chief building hacker." As a PhD Candidate in Computer Science at UC Berkeley, he worked on software infrastructure for implementing building applications at scale. He has previously worked at Intel, Google, and IBM on energy efficiency and large-scale distributed systems. Little-known talent: he makes a mean Moscow Mule.
What inspired you to start Building Robotics?
While earning my PhD, I became obsessed with figuring out how software could play a role in addressing our current energy challenge. I zeroed in on buildings, because they are some of the largest consumers of energy. They also happen to be the places where we spend most of our days. I wondered, what would happen if I could tap into all these existing building systems (sensors, advanced instrumentation, etc.) to improve energy usage and the occupant experience?
So, I looked up some of the old manuals from the 90s that specified how the protocol worked and befriended the building manager, Domenico. My research team did an initial demo on some of the lights along a walkway outside a popular campus building. We started turning the lights on and off, making patterns, even sending messages in Morse code! It was fun, but more importantly it was proof that we have the technical ability to tap into a building and control it remotely from a computer, or even an app.
Discovering how to “hack the building” led to what would ultimately become Comfy, a product we could adapt to alleviate some of the greatest pain points occupants experience in buildings. I wanted to empower end users and make them more productive. Fortunately, my roommate was also the smartest technologist I knew at UC Berkeley [referring to hot-shot co-founder SDH] and at some point I convinced him that we should start a company to take this to scale.
"Whether that is more efficient or not is still TBD but it’s the closest I’ve gotten to cloning myself."
What is your favorite productivity tool or trick for work?
I do find the Slack messaging app useful too. Funny story from this morning, I messaged our [VP of Sales] Dave on Slack then walked by his desk to discuss something totally unrelated. During our conversation he answers my first question on Slack while we’re standing there talking about the second topic. Whether that is more efficient or not is still TBD but it’s the closest I’ve gotten to cloning myself.
I’ve also been participating in our twice-daily company “swol session,” which is essentially a mini-group exercise class of push ups, planks, and Kaylas [a killer ab workout named after our whip-cracking Customer Success Manager]...I think that helps a bit.
Where do you see the building technology industry headed?
Buildings are going to be much more human-focused. For the longest time there has been a big disconnect between the ultimate purpose of buildings—to ensure that everyone working in them are productive, happy, efficient, and comfortable—and the way that buildings are actually designed and run, which has traditionally taken a more mechanical perspective.
There’s been somewhat of a debate in the field, should we just put sensors everywhere and instrument the !&#% out of the building, so that it can know what you want before you even know that you want? My opinion, and the reality of it, is that people want a voice. While the amount of technology in buildings will definitely increase, as it should, the biggest change is that [tech] will be much more people-centered.
What 3 things would you bring if you were stranded on an island?
I think SDH really nailed it with the internet and a bar...and if sunscreen’s included, I guess a good book and what else...maybe an unlimited supply of chocolate-covered pretzels? Those are my vice in the office. Yeah, that’s pretty much all I’d need.
What can you geek out on for hours?
I have a real weakness for Quora and can definitely nerd out on finding answers to the most random, useless questions. The program implements machine learning to understand your interests...who would have thought I have a deep-seated affinity for medieval war history? Did you know that (apparently) a modern-day armored tank would be no match for a legion of Mongol warrior archers? The archers would run around the tank until it ran out of fuel or trap it...Yeah, I guess that’s pretty nerdy, huh?