Duke University’s Smart Home Program Ahead of Its Time

Duke University’s Smart Home Program Ahead of Its Time

Duke University’s Smart Home Program has always been ahead of the game. It began as one student’s senior thesis project in 2003, when the smart home concept was a mere twinkle in the eye of the industry.

A single idea sparked this inception—design a living laboratory where Duke University students could live immersed in technology such as home automation equipment and Internet of Things (IoT) devices.

“It was not designed to be a demonstration house,” says Jim Gaston, assistant dean of undergraduate research at the Pratt School of Engineering and director of the Duke Smart Home Program. “This was more focused on the students, allowing them to have hands on experience with technology, while also coming up with their own ideas and testing them out to see how they work.”

Having an idea is extremely important, notes Gaston, but it is far more important to have the resources in place to work with a team to transform these same ideas into reality.


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Welcome to the Smart Home

Thus, in 2007, the Home Depot Smart Home was born with help from the eponymous company, which provided both funding and material. Gaston says the home—which serves as both a lab and dormitory for upperclassmen on campus—is always evolving, which has continued for nearly a decade.

This evolution is driven on the efforts of the Duke Smart Home Program, spearheaded by president and senior, Lauren Shum. The smart home itself boasts many admirable features, such as being the first LEED Platinum building on campus and the only one on campus with all LED lighting.

An overhead shot of the kitchen during an open house.
The home’s kitchen during an open house. (Photo courtesy of Lauren Shum)

It also collects data and analyzes trends, looking into hot sustainability topics like net zero energy. The Smart Home Program also tackles a variety of unique projects. This year’s endeavors will include technology such as solar powered benches around campus and converting a regular bicycle into an electric model.

Embracing Tradition with Tech

There is also what the program is calling its “Smart Tent Project.” The idea stems from the school’s basketball tradition, where students willingly camp outside of the basketball stadium for six weeks in the dead of winter, specifically for the rival game against UNC.

“It’s like Black Friday but for basketball … and much longer,” laughs Shum. “It’s a tradition that people engage in year after year, but it’s just so cold.”

To combat the fierce temperatures associated with this athletic ritual, Shum and the entire team are developing ways to incorporate IoT technology inside of the tents to make them more livable.

© Duke Photography
© Duke Photography

A Resource for Builders

Considering how ahead of the curve the Duke Smart Home Program is, it serves as an excellent resource for not only students eager to learn about technology but builders as well.

Shum is currently looking into plans to hold a smart home conference of sorts. The goal is to bring together students from all around the country, as well as industry professionals, to discuss rising opportunities in the smart home space.

Even currently, industry interest has been ignited by the Duke Smart Home Program.

“We have had some architects and builders come by to look at the smart home, and we do have some in the area who are building similar-style projects in terms of energy efficiency,” says Gaston. 

“So, at the very least, I think it’s a great way to promote better green building in the community.”

Shum says the program plans to hold education workshops throughout the year, as well as actively blog and document its research. This will create consistent resources for anyone interested in the smart home and its technology to educate themselves adequately.

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About The Author

Greg Vellante is a staff writer and multimedia specialist at TecHome Builder, as well as a content coordinator for AE Ventures events. He has over a decade of experience writing for various publications on topics that range from cinema to editorials to home technology. His favorite technologies fall into the A/V and home entertainment realm, and he’s keeping a close eye on the rising trends in robotics and virtual/augmented reality. Greg resides in Boston, holds a degree in Media Studies from Emerson College and pursues screenwriting/filmmaking in his free time.

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  1. Ty

    I was looking for some actual examples of technology used at the house. Lacking that information, the article is pointless.

    1. Greg Vellante, Staff Writer

      Hi Ty,

      We will be doing a follow-up on this story with more of that information. Stay tuned!


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