Meet Our Speakers: Q&A with Tiny Apartment Innovator, Professor Dumpster

Dr. Jeff Wilson, aka Professor Dumpster.Dr. Jeff Wilson, aka Professor Dumpster.

Jeff Wilson goes by many titles—Professor Dumpster, CEO of Kasita and, now, a speaker for the TecHome Builder Summits, being held in Fort Worth, Texas from December 7 to 9.

We visited Wilson, the subject of our award-winning story, “An iPhone You Can Live Inside,” to explore his unique tiny apartment concept and discuss the innovations he’s making in the multifamily industry. Through this interview, Wilson provided a sneak peek at the distinctive outlook he will bring to TecHome Builder’s Multifamily session, “Big Tech Options for the Tiny Apartment Trend.”

The session will take place on December 8, day two of our TecHome Builder Summits. You can learn more about the event and register to be a hosted attendee, here.

Stay tuned to TecHome Builder for an exclusive video tour of Wilson’s project.

Take us from the inception of your journey. Where did this all begin?

Wilson.
Wilson.

Well, at the very beginning, this actually started in a very unusual place—a very dirty place, you might say.

One night, I was lying in my home at the time, which happened to be a very small tiny home in the form of a 33-square-foot dumpster. I was thinking about my six months that I had spent there, and actually, parts of my life had become much better. I had disposable income. I could move my home around. I was more connected to the environment and the community. And I had less “stuff.”

So I began to think about two things. One, nobody wants to live in a dumpster and, two, maybe we could go down some sort of micro-path by looking at a solution to urban density and affordability. And that was when the idea for Kasita first came along.

So what is the Kasita concept now? What is your vision for the company?

A side view of a Kasita unit.
A side view of a Kasita unit.

Kasita is now a small and smart solution to the affordability crisis that we face here in the United States and elsewhere in the world. It is a high design, 320-square-foot micro-unit that stacks, can be mass produced and has fully integrated tech.

One of the key drivers to lack of affordability in our cities is that there’s no more land. Particularly in areas like San Francisco, New York, Chicago, here in Austin as well, there isn’t any land left in the places where people want to live. So, a dumpster doesn’t take up much space—maybe 50-square-feet—so why don’t we design something compact enough to move into very small places in the city?  

So, we looked for a very underutilized resource—smaller pieces of land that we could build on that traditional developers wouldn’t want. So, on a few thousand square feet, we can put approximately 40 units by stacking them, 10 high. We have a fairly small footprint at the base, and then you just go up. And you go up fairly quickly as well, because these are mass manufactured. You’re talking about a matter of weeks or months, rather than a matter of years to build a multifamily development.

How would these apartments stack?

They stack and slide through a super-structure that we call a rack. That’s something we are spending a lot of engineering time on right now. It is essentially going to be a rapidly deployable steel structure with stairs up to three floors and an elevator if you go beyond three.

So that’s the dream?

Yeah, that’s the dream.

How do you see yourself accomplishing this dream?

Kasita apartments are designed to stack.
Kasita apartments are designed to stack.

By all means. If we don’t do it, somebody else will.

The way things are moving is towards a convergence, you might say. I would liken it to the early 2000s, late 90s, when you had a set of devices—a GPS, a digital camera, an MP3 player and a phone—and all of these required switching around to different platforms. Compare that today to Apple HomeKit, Alexa, Philips Hue—these different sorts of devices or ecosystems that aren’t all fully integrated yet.

What we really need is an iPhone type device that’s really easy, gets to know you and is fully integrated.

In our first story on Kasita, you called these units an “iPhone you can live inside.” How do Kasita apartments fit this description?

Wilson, inside of a Kasita unit.
Wilson, inside of a Kasita unit.

[Laughs]

I actually stopped using that after we did some user focus groups and they all told us it was the most terrible thing they had ever heard. So, with risk … yes, I have said it is like an iPhone you can live in. A lot of that was not about this integration that I’m talking about but much about the design as well. This was not designed, initially, with traditional architects, engineers, etc. We hired an industrial designer, and I asked him to design me a large scale, manufactural product that you can live in. He had never built a home before. Our engineers had an automotive background. Then, we later added architects.

That whole “iPhone you can live in” is about the way we are thinking about homes, and this home in particular, as much as it is about a fully integrated product.

Why is that technology so important in these apartments?

Technology inside the home can make the space feel bigger.
Technology inside the home can make the space feel bigger.

The technology is important to get beyond the smart home. I think there is something beyond the “smart home” that I would call the “easy home.” It’s where living in your home begins to be more built around use cases—things you actually do and want to improve.

So, for instance, sleep. What if there was a use case where you said, “Hey, Kasita, I’m ready for bed,” and your bed comes out, the Nest thermostat dials down to 70, but it detects throughout the night that you don’t wake up as often if the temperature is dialed up to 74 in the middle of the night?

So what starts happening then, with some machine learning built in, you begin to have a real use case—which is the best night of sleep in your life, no matter what Kasita you are in.

How is technology used to make the small space feel bigger?

A major factor related to this is light. This cube that we are in is outfitted with a dynamic glass product, which allows you to adjust the levels of light. If you are a late riser and want to simulate a sunrise around two in the afternoon, you can set things up to do that. You can also let a lot of light in when you want the space as a whole to feel bigger. We are also looking at a type of modularity and the technology around that, which would allow you to customize and adjust the unit, so it feels more like a home.

So what are all the technologies in the home currently?

Right now we have an Alexa, a Nest, a Sonos sound system, a Philips Hue lighting hub and system and the dynamic glass. I think that’s what we will start with, then begin to figure out how to integrate this all together, as you would in a luxury home, and take it forward from there.

Why has the tiny home and tiny apartment movement grown so much in recent years? Where do you see it going?

Wilson believes the tiny movement is strong and growing.
Wilson believes the tiny movement is strong and growing.

The tiny home movement, as it’s been called, has definitely taken off in the past few years. You can’t really flip on HGTV, or even MTV now, without seeing a program on tiny homes.

I think a few things are driving that. Number one, it’s just affordability. Here in Austin, the average home price is getting near $400,000. In New York, it’s over a million. If you can figure out how to own a home under $150,000, it is very appealing to people.

But when you get compressed into a smaller space, design becomes very important, as does the ability to use a space in a variety of ways. There are robotics companies, one out of Boston in particular, that are transforming space by allowing you to “Swiss army knife,” if you will.

With just one instrument in your pocket, you are able to do a lot of things. 

NOTE: The Boston-based robotics company Wilson refers to is Ori, which TecHome Builder has covered in this article and video tour.

Ori CEO, Hasier Larrea, will be speaking alongside Jeff Wilson at the TecHome Builder Summits.

Learn more about the session here.

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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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