The IEEE Fellow Behind Honeywell’s Smart Thermostats

Tariq Samad is now expanding smart-home innovations to countries with fast-growing economies

11 December 2015

IEEE Fellow Tariq Samad is at the forefront of making homes and buildings intelligent and energy efficient. He is helping to identify what customers will need in the coming years and is steering his company to develop such products.

Samad is a 30-year veteran at Honeywell, a global manufacturer of automation and control systems, well known for its smart thermostats and Internet- and voice-controlled home-automation and security systems. He works for Honeywell’s Automation and Control Solutions group, in Minneapolis.

“Automation is a central pillar in our lives,” he says. “It is key for keeping us safe, comfortable, and productive and for managing our energy consumption.”

As the group’s corporate fellow for the past 15 years and now its global innovation leader—a position he took on this year—Samad has been involved less with hands-on R&D and more with promoting innovation.

“My goal,” he says, “is to encourage technically innovative ideas within Honeywell and make sure effective processes are in place to evaluate and support them.”

FINGER ON THE PULSE

Samad’s early research helped pave the way for the algorithms that allow control systems to make intelligent decisions, such as automatically adjusting thermostats based on whether someone is home. Samad promotes Honeywell’s research efforts that focus on Internet-connected systems for home automation.

“Thermostats and security systems are no longer old-school devices,” he says. “Today, they’re all about connectivity, the cloud, analytics, and user experience. We are designing and developing products for connected homes and buildings that can be controlled from smartphones and other devices.”

Working with the Smart Grid Interoperability Panel, an organization formed by the U.S. National Institute of Standards and Technology, he has been pushing for smart-home standards and inter­operability.

“Standards allow for more competition, and they reduce the risk to consumers of buying a product that might go obsolete,” he says. “Inter­operability is a close cousin to standards, allowing different home-automation devices to connect with each other and with your smartphone or smart watch.”

In the last few years, Samad has focused on Honeywell’s smart-grid systems. Smart grid refers to a reliable, efficient power grid that interacts with computerized home and building controls to match supply with demand. The grid can also give households better insight into their energy consumption and costs.

Samad has been instrumental in promoting standards for Honeywell’s automated demand response (ADR) technology, which connects utilities with customers and applies intelligent software to automatically adjust power usage based on regional conditions and customer preferences. If the grid is overloaded on a hot summer day or if electricity prices are high, for example, ADR technology can adjust a thermostat or turn off nonessential lights to reduce power consumption.

More than 2 million homeowners across North America now use Honeywell’s smart grid–compatible thermostats. Samad is promoting the company’s demand response program across Europe and Asia as well. In China, he says, load reductions of up to 30 percent have been achieved with the program.

Samad also wants to accelerate smart-home innovations in China, India, and other countries with growing economies. He frequently travels to present Honeywell’s technologies and better understand customers’ needs.

“Much of the world’s building construction in the past few years has been in China,” he points out. “These buildings need energy management, comfort controls, and security systems.”

solving THE PUZZLE

Samad grew up in Rawalpindi, Pakistan. He wasn’t sure what he wanted to study in college, but his father was an engineer so he got into engineering as a “default option,” he says. After receiving his bachelor’s degree in engineering and applied science from Yale, in 1980, he earned a Ph.D. in electrical and computer engineering at Carnegie Mellon University, in Pittsburgh, in 1986.

Samad then joined Honeywell’s R&D team in Minneapolis, focusing on computer science. The job offered him intellectual freedom, he says. The company’s exploratory research grants program, which he now runs, allows employees to work for part of their time on their pet projects. Before he took over the program, he used it to apply artificial neural networks—statistical machine-learning methods inspired by biological neural networks—to different technical applications. That led to several publications and patents and to applications for homes, buildings, and industrial processes.

Samad’s first major volunteer role at IEEE was as editor in chief of IEEE Control Systems magazine, from 1998 to 2003. He has coedited two issues of an online report, “The Impact of Control Technology,” which highlights real-world success stories and research challenges in automation and control. Samad also leads the editorial board of IEEE Press, the organization’s book-publishing arm, and is on the IEEE Fellow Committee, which evaluates nominees’ credentials.

He stresses that creativity must be coupled with analytical rigor and believes in the importance of intellectually stimulating workplaces and activities. He says he considers himself lucky to be able to explore technologies for solving vital problems such as energy management, safety, and security.

“Fitting all the pieces of the puzzle together,” he says, “is challenging and fun.”

This article originally appeared in print as “Automating Everyday Life.”

This article is part of our December 2015 special report on smart homes.

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