Freezing offices, stuffy gyms, harsh lighting, noise. Most of us have to put up with these annoyances daily. What if you could come home to a house that you programmed to your own specifications? Imagine: the climate is perfect, the plants are lush (without any attention from you), your favorite music is playing and your laundry is done. You can even change settings from work. To top it off, all this happy comfort actually saves you money, and saves energy for the rest of us.
Sounds a bit like the old “Jetsons” cartoon, but students on the S&T Solar House Team made it a reality. They used the system, called the Chameleon Automation System, to power their entry into the 2009 Solar Decathlon, which was sponsored in part by the U.S. Department of Energy.
Chameleon was built with a rapid development system from National Instruments. “We hope to adapt the system to any home, not just solar homes,” says team member Ben Brannon, a junior in computer engineering. The team plans to patent the system and eventually link it to a smart grid so homeowners can sell energy back to power companies.
“Our house has simple touch screens throughout that show the amount of energy coming into and going out of the house.”
“Our house has simple touch screens throughout that show the amount of energy coming into and going out of the house,” says team member Cory Brennan, a senior in architectural engineering. “The screens also show the money savings, by day, week, etc.”
The team is working with Whirlpool Corp. to modify home appliances to integrate Chameleon control. The program is designed to monitor external conditions, then run these already efficient Energy Star appliances at the most energy-efficient time of day.
One of the students’ favorite features is a two-way bathroom mirror with a white text display. “You can choose whatever you want to see — headlines, weather, sports scores, stocks — while using very little power,” says team member Bryan Glass, a senior in computer science. “It uses much less energy than TVs or computers.”
Plus, Glass adds, “it’s awesome.”