Duke University Smart Home is a Cool Concept

November 17, 2008

Visiting The Home Depot Smart Home at Duke University is truly enlightening. Recently, MEM administrators had the opportunity to tour the house with Jim Gaston, Duke Smart Home Program Director.

Designed and managed by the Pratt School of Engineering, Duke’s Smart Home was completed in 2007 and earned a Platinum rating in LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) from the United States Green Building Council. LEED Platinum is the highest possible rating in green building.

Duke Smart HomeMEM Administrators were able to view the vegetated Green Roof, innovative rain water irrigation system, solar energy panels, environmentally friendly heating system, and, best of all, the row of three LCD flat screen televisions in the media room. No wonder students apply to live here!

The Green Roof acts as both a natural coolant and as the first filter for rain water collected and stored in the basement of the home. Filtered and used for the toilets and washing machine, the rain water storage system alleviates reliance on city water. In addition to saving on water costs, the Smart Home combines solar energy, which produces 30% of the home’s needed power, and natural heat that penetrates the home’s enormous energy efficient glass windows on the South facing wall, to reduce heating costs.

Located at the corner of Faber and Powe streets on Duke’s Central Campus, the 6000-square-foot Duke Smart Home is literally home to 10 undergraduate students. In fact, while other universities have Smart Homes, Duke’s approach was to make the home a ‘living laboratory’ by housing student project members so they could see and feel the effects of their work. The beauty of living in the house while developing systems and vetting projects allows students to enjoy project successes and experience project failures firsthand. More than 45 different projects have been launched, with a focus on enabling a more efficient, environmentally friendly home of the future The technological possibilities are as far reaching as the imagination of the students working on the Smart Home. A few of the projects in progress are a solar powered mail box that announces delivery to residents inside, a solar powered bicycle to commute to and from classes on campus, and a camera that projects a visitor’s image inside the home.

Vidhan Srivastava, a recent graduate of the Master of Engineering Management Program was part of the first student team to work on the Smart Home. Today Vidhan works for BlackRock Inc., an investment management firm in New York City.

Reflecting on his experience Vidhan attributes much of his professional success to the ‘good foundational skill set’ he established as a MEM student and as a team leader on a Smart Home project. Vidhan’s team focused on implementing a human tracking project using RFID, the RFID-eLocator. The project objective was to develop a unique software application with the RFID equipment and integrate it with the existing Smart Home infrastructure. Ultimately this would provide a good and green (economical) source for research work and study on people tracking, he explained.

Vidhan’s position of Team Lead on a Smart Home project was the perfect blend of technology and project management. Vidhan says the MEMP helped shape his idea into a conceivable vision, and my technology background helped to outline its implementation.

The Smart Home continues to build awareness of the possibilities of the green revolution and the significant role of engineers in its future. Contributing to one of the Smart Home’s first student experiments is an experience that Vidhan says “enriched my learning from both technical and managerial perspectives and added so much more value to my Duke experience.”