Smart Start in Houses


Smart House: a working project and residence for ten engineering students

Smart House: a working project and residence for ten engineering students
Jeremy Ficca, School of Design, NC State University

The Pratt School of Engineering broke ground in April for the Duke Smart House--a 4,500-square-foot engineering-research laboratory for live-in undergraduates. The highly automated, two-story house will include features such as systems to filter out unwanted background noise; lights, music, and climate control activated by voice commands; efficient cooling systems; monitors to measure power consumption on a room-by-room basis; security cameras that will perform facial-recognition analysis; and indoor environmental-quality monitors to create a low-toxin, low-pathogen environment.

The house will have a "green roof" to control water runoff and use embedded fiber-optic strands and acoustic emission sensors throughout the structure and foundation to detect any movement, cracks, or breaks over time.

The project will provide undergraduates the opportunity to gain practical design experience and learn about project management and team building. Pratt Dean Kristina M. Johnson says she hopes the Smart House will serve as a catalyst for outreach to the community and a broad range of industry. "We believe smart homes can improve the quality of life for people of all ages and incomes," she says. "The Duke Smart House creates a tremendous opportunity for partnering with industry, and, ultimately, research conducted at the Smart House can influence the residential market for smart, integrated technology."

The cost of construction, estimated at $1.2 million, will be supported by funding from the Lord Foundation, the Pratt School, and private donors. Officials say construction should be completed in spring 2006, with the first student residents moving in that fall.

The Smart House, which will meet all dorm safety and building codes, will consist of five double bedrooms, a single room for a resident adviser, two to three full bathrooms, one half bath, a kitchen, living room, study-library, laboratory, mechanical utilities space, and a central courtyard. It will house ten students, including one resident adviser each year.

The concept for the house grew out of a conversation between Johnson and Mark Younger B.S.E. '03, who, at the time, was a senior majoring in electrical and computer engineering. Younger spent a semester planning a Duke Engineering Living Technology Advancement project as an independent-study course topic and then launched a twenty-student design project in the spring of 2003. After graduating, Younger was hired as project manager, serving as a mentor for student teams and the liaison between Duke and the architectural and construction teams.

The Smart House incorporates civil and environmental engineering, electrical and computer engineering, materials science and mechanical engineering, and even biomedical engineering. The project also draws on computer science, environmental science, and human-factors disciplines.

Considerable student-led research already has been conducted, with some projects directly supporting the design and functionality of the house, and others slated for implementation after construction. More than 110 students have taken part in research-design efforts since the summer of 2003, averaging more than forty students per semester. Student teams have tackled forty-five different projects. Younger has purposely created interdisciplinary student teams to boost the educational value of the experience.

"Duke's Smart House will differentiate itself from other university smart-house projects in two fundamental ways," he says. "First, students actually live in the house while developing the systems in and around it. Second, the project's broad cross-disciplinary nature gives students invaluable interaction with engineers specializing in fields other than their own as they prepare for the real world."
Younger says he hopes that Duke students will not be the only people to benefit from the endeavor. "We want to help individual homeowners make their own ideas for a smart home a reality." Smart homes are much more commonplace in Europe and Asia than in the U.S.

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