A Smart Home to Challenge the Industry

A Smart Home to Challenge the Industry

The goal is to change the way luxury builders and integrators think about the smart home.

Researchers at Virginia Tech have developed a concept home called FutureHAUS that utilizes the newest in home technology, including efficient systems and home automation, in a way that can teach traditional builders.

Each smart concept room is being completed in stages as part of a modular cartridge, as they call it. “What we came up with is a concept that uses what we call cartridges, which are basically entire walls of technology. So we have the whole-kitchen cartridge, bathroom wall-modules, equipment storage walls and etc.,” says Joe Wheeler, FutureHAUS project leader.

These cartridges are used to help builders understand how they can also install these pre-finished, pre-wired cartridges. They mimic modular building in that entire rooms are shipped from the factory to the job site, but the research teams believe their concept improves on modular building techniques by improving flexibility.

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A group of students work on a FutureHaus cartridge.
A group of students work on a FutureHaus cartridge.

Increasing Flexibility and Options

“What we are doing with the FutureHAUS research is using the cartridge components as a proof-of-concept for the Internet of Things (IoT) home of the future,” says Wheeler.

For a single-family home, after the home’s slab is cast and set, the builder and integrator installs the cartridges into place, depending on the layout, and then frame the house around the cartridges. By initially installing the cartridges according to the home’s layout, builders are able to immediately see potential trouble spots that may not have been apparent during the design phase and make changes before the home is built.

The cartridges allow builders and integrators to increase job-efficiency by visualizing tech placement to understand how different systems are meant to come together and connect.

This initial FutureHAUS home was built in about a day by just a handful of students, which highlights how the cartridges can significantly increase job-efficiency, and professional builders who use these techniques can count on even quicker results.

“What you are end up with is extremely high-tech, because it’s factory-built, and you have the luxury to build in tolerance and electrical systems in a more flexible way,” says Wheeler.

The first two catridges researchers built were the connected kitchen and bathroom.

The smart kitchen island features a massive, connected touchscreen.
The smart kitchen island features a massive, connected touchscreen.

The Connected Kitchen Concept

“The concept kitchen is the highest-tech kitchen you can imagine. It’s all about integrating the technology in the kitchen to try and make living easier, more convenient and accessible,” says Wheeler.

And the researcher teams filled every square-inch of the kitchen with smart home features, many of which have yet to even hit the market.

The unique kitchen tech begins behind the sink. The entire nine-foot backsplash has been transformed into a full digital display that presents information on every connected device in the kitchen. A similar digital workstation was installed on the kitchen island, allowing the homeowner to see recipes and turn on appliances while cutting vegetables or preparing a recipe.

A camera installed in the oven allows the homeowner to see what is happening inside, directly on the backslash’s screen. Sensors in the fridge also add remote monitoring, which let’s the homebuyer monitor how much food is left and how long it’s been sitting there, all from the grocery store.

“We are trying to do two smart things with every appliance,” says Wheeler. For example, a microphone was installed in the microwave to pick up sounds of popcorn and to turn off when the sounds of popping are no longer detected. At the same time, an infrared sensor detects the temperature of what is heating up.

The entire kitchen backsplash has been transformed into a smart interface.
The entire kitchen backsplash has been transformed into a smart interface.

“It makes it so that using the microwave is no longer a matter of guesswork and will now turn off at the right time and temperature.” This added feature, similar to the addition of a camera in the oven, allows builders to market energy savings to their clients.

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A Futuristic Bathroom

The bathroom serves as an important lesson for luxury builders whose clients will be looking for simple, personalized home control solutions that fit family members or all ages.

The bathroom vanity has been designed as the central hub of the bathroom. Depending on which family member touches the side of the vanity, it automatically adjusts its height for that user and triggers actions among the other smart devices in the bathroom. For example, when a child is in the bathroom, the vanity lowers for him/her to use the sink and see the mirror. The smart mirror has been integrated based on the user as well, so the adult’s apps would display things like weather, traffic and news overlays while the child’s plays cartoons.

The bathroom is a great example of how builders can use tech to avoid clutter. An integrated pressure-sensor in the floor displays the user’s weight without requiring a clunky scale in the bathroom.  

The FutureHAUS uses motorized cabinets and fixtures to save space.
The FutureHAUS uses motorized cabinets and fixtures to save space.

The Future of FutureHAUS

The FutureHAUS has already generated a lot of interest in the industry. This particular house, which also has a connected living room, sold before it was even completed. The research team is now working on smart home office and connected bedroom cartridges for a future FutureHAUS.

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About The Author

Michael Black is a staff writer and content coordinator at TecHome Builder. He has a particular interest in new solar developments and smart energy systems and is always looking for the next smart home trend to cover. As the youngest member of the TecHome team, Michael brings a passion that keeps the team energized. He also is instrumental in leading our social media efforts.

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