Recently, I got to meet Julia Park, an emerging IoT Hero from The University of Texas. Her unique smart home design places importance on monitoring and educating, rather than automating and controlling. I sat down with her to find out more about the project.
Hi, Julia. So, tell me a little bit about yourself.
Hello! My name is Julia Park, student leader of the NexSmart system and my team members are Abhishek Pratapa, Alex Best, and Ignacio Urena. A couple of us are UT Austin students (hook 'em!) and the others are graduates, but just as passionate about using technology to promote sustainability! We're all from different walks of life and have unique backgrounds. I am studying architecture and engineering, while the rest of the team is composed of computer science and electrical engineering backgrounds.
Great. I understand you guys are working on a cool application.
The home's name comes from the idea of 'Nexus' which combines ideas about energy, water, food, and density and incorporates the concepts into a self-sustaining design. Initially, I was involved with the architectural design of the home, but at some point I realized that in order to truly influence a modern homeowner's lifestyle, we have to use technology because it dominates nearly every facet of our lives today. I realized we could build some sort of system to facilitate the homeowner's lifestyle, and so I found some other students who were interested in this idea to build a 'smart green home' and here we are!
Early on in the project, we decided that a notion of 'extreme automation' such as being able to remotely control lights from our phones did not fit with the overall concept of the home. But we felt that this type of remote automation might lead to a 'forgetful' or 'lazy' attitude where the importance of turning off the lights in the first place might become lost. We wanted to encourage actively leading a sustainable life, instead of potentially facilitating a further disconnection from understanding how much energy we are using.
"Therefore, our NexSmart system is a smart home design that places importance on monitoring and educating, rather than automating and controlling."
The concept behind our home smart management system (NexSmart) is that it is custom designed technology for the NexusHaus, and it promotes understanding about energy consumption and water conservation. Instead of using 'luxury' smart home technologies from various manufacturers and awkwardly place them together in the home, we wanted to integrate everything into one, cohesive smart home system that emphasizes and encourages a sustainable lifestyle. We feel that if we can gather data about various elements of the home and display them in a non-obtrusive manner we can subtly influence the homeowner to live a more sustainable lifestyle.
The system has some two concepts: 1: NexSmart will collect information (via sensors on the Silicon Labs Sensor Puck) about the environment and display suggestions on how to improve the home conditions and save energy.
2: The smart home should not be composed by random gadgets tacked onto the house, but should be integrated and expressed into the architecture of NexusHaus. In other words, it should have a presence in the home. We decided to locate a lot of the hardware in our SenseBar, which is a linear acrylic piece in the home that houses the tablet and glows depending on how much energy or water the user might be consuming.
Tell me a bit more about how you're using Silicon Labs products?
We are using the fantastic Sensor Puck product! It came out just this year and it's a great little wireless board loaded with sensors. We're using it primarily for temperature and humidity sensing, but it's very flexible and adaptable should we decide to add onto the smart home system later and use its other sensors in the future. The temperature and humidity sensors detect indoor thermal comfort levels and control the HVAC system. We are considering utilizing the light sensor as well to detect illuminance levels inside the home after we finish the current version.
Fascinating! What's the biggest thing you've learned throughout this project?
The absolute biggest thing we have learned through this experience is the importance of a cross-disciplinary education – it was a great challenge and experience to try to meld technology and architecture and to learn about the different disciplines. The next biggest thing is probably communication, and the sheer amount of dedication it takes to make a project like this work during school.
I know it's a big question, but in your opinion, what does the future of IoT look like? I think the IoT movement is an incredibly powerful one -– and I believe it's applicable in so many different fields. I think it will keep growing, and in particular I hope more people think of ways to integrate connectivity into architecture. Not only is it convenient and safe to be able to see and control aspects of buildings remotely, I think there is great potential to be an informative, educational tool. We spend 90% of our time indoors yet a lot of us don't know anything about the buildings we inhabit. IoT makes knowledge about our environment very easily accessible. Having connectivity in the physical world opens up so many possibilities – it's exciting to imagine what they could be!
For more from Julia, watch this quick video interview.