New Adaptive Building System Prototypes

I haven’t written many updates about my research as of late, but that doesn’t mean I haven’t been hard at work. Below you’ll find a couple of time lapse videos of the latest prototypes (some I’ve built, others are Grasshopper models of prototypes that have been temporarily shelved), as well as some low-fi paper prototypes of an iOS Home Automation App that I’ve been working on.

Active Prototype 1

Active Prototype 2

Passive Facade Prototype (Unbuilt)

Hybrid/Heliostat Facade Prototype (Unbuilt)

Active Facade Prototype

Low Fidelity Paper Prototypes of iOS Home Automation App

A piece from CNN on Otherlab’s Saul Griffith and their work on pneumatic robots. Great stuff!

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Hardly a day goes by that we don’t hear about the perils of global warming and the toll that fossil fuels take on the environment.  Most of us, though, are too consumed with managing the daily blitz of life to do much about it.  

Apart from the rising cost of gasoline, it’s easy to forget.

But Saul Griffith is making it his mission to focus on the nuts and bolts of changing the energy equation. His goal is to transform the way America generates and uses power and make alternative energy the fuel of the future once and for all.

Griffith is an inventor, engineer, scientist and recipient of a coveted MacArthur “genius” award.  He also is co-founder of Otherlab, a hothouse of ideas and inventions where he and his team are developing technologies that could dramatically cut the cost of solar power, make it possible for cars to run on…

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Worth a look if you’re working to understand the MSP430, like myself.



Inspired by the maddening timepiece from Discworld, this clock keeps time, but anyone watching the seconds tick by may be mentally unstable for it. [Renaud Schleck] built the stuttering clock using very few components. He undertook the build after being inspired by the version which [Simon Inns] built.

The clock itself is a run-of-the-mill item which uses one battery to keep time. We’re always impressed by how these dirt-cheap things remain so accurate over the long haul — but we digress. The method of attack uses coil injection to drive the hands. [Renaud] used one of the microcontrollers from the MSP430 Launchpad, along with the clock crystal which also shipped with the kit, to gain control of the mechanism. The crystal triggers an interrupt which does the actual time-keeping. The seconds hand is driven rather sporadically based on an algorithm explained in his write-up.

You can watch the uneven ticking…

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I’ll be using this in one of my IABS interface prototypes.


Here’s a Raspberry Pi hack that adds web control using PHP and MySQL. As you can see in the image, it serves up a webpage (using the Apache2 server) which allows you to change the state of the GPIO pins. It’s not super-complicated, but it is nice to see a step-by-step guide for installing and configuring the package.

Web interface GPIO control is one of the features we loved about the Adafruit Web IDE. But this offering is loaded completely from the RPi (the Adafruit package uses cloud based code) and utilizes the tools most Linux network admins will be used to. A MySQL database manages the connection between GUI commands and GPIO modification. The webpage is served up by a PHP script which takes care of polling and changing database values. Configuration requires a new database, plus the username and password which has access to it.

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Intelligent and Adaptive Building Systems in High-Rise Architecture

Presented for the 2012 CCHRB Scholarship

Project Proposal By:
Kai L. Hansen
College of Architecture IIT

Energy consumption by buildings, especially high-rise buildings, has increased to the point that it has overtaken the industrial and transportation sectors (Perez-Lombard et al., 2008).  This unsustainable phenomenon has prompted research into Intelligent and Adaptive Building Systems, which from this point on will be referred to as IABS, for more energy-efficient buildings that current architectural practice overlooks.  In addition to the benefit of reduced energy consumption, occupant physiological and psychological well-being can also be addressed by providing greater microclimate control and feedback.  Both can be achieved through the blending of established technologies such as:

  • intelligent mobile devices
  • microcontrollers sense and response capabilities
  • fuzzy logic
  • artificial neural networks
  • agent based systems
  • network communications

This research project seeks to address these issues by developing working examples of IABS that address the needs of all stakeholders (Table 1).  Past and future examples consist of several existing technologies, and form a contextually aware and extremely flexible agent based network.  This project also seeks to answer questions about IABS design and occupant interfacing.  To achieve these goals, a new prototype series of varying component make ups are planned, and will be comparatively tested through performance analyses.  Additionally, a scale high-rise model to demonstrate a working system in operation will be produced.  This proposal will also explain why high-rise architecture is ideal for IABS integration, and how the two fit together.

Table 1. Building stakeholders and relative performance metrics  


Performance Metrics

Occupant Indoor Air Quality, comfort, health (psychological & physiological)
Building Owner or Developer Return on initial investment, building lifespan, operating costs, occupant satisfaction/rate of occupancy
Building Operator or Engineer Efficient building control and management
Utility Companies Energy consumption (especially during peak demand)

Full paper found here.

The Development and Valuation of Intelligent and Adaptive Building Systems

Written for the ARCC 2013 Conference: The Visibility of Research
(pending acceptance for publication)

ABSTRACT: Energy consumption by buildings, especially high-rise buildings, has increased to the point that it has overtaken the industrial and transportation sectors. This unsustainable phenomenon has prompted research into intelligent and adaptive building systems (IABS) for more energy-efficient buildings that current architectural practice and building operations overlook. IABS are bottom-up strategies that provide energy consumption and comfort solutions at any scale of the built environment. In addition to the benefit of reduced energy consumption, occupant physiological and psychological well-being can also be addressed through better control and feedback mechanisms. These improvements can be made through the widespread application of systems that blend many different and readily attainable components. This research seeks to address these issues through the development and study of IABS prototypes, virtual models, and material/component libraries that address the needs of all stakeholders. Prototypes that form contextually aware and flexible agent networks will be presented, along with the results of those that have been completed, and suggestions for design and interfacing. Controlled environments are constructed in and around physical prototypes to carefully observe performance results. Also discussed is how high-rise buildings are ideal candidates for IABS integration.

Link to full paper.

Is there something like this for iOS devices?



For the last few years, [Ytai] has been working on the IOIO, a device that connects your Android devices to the other homebrew peripherals. There’s a new version of this really cool board out now that includes a few much-needed features like USB-OTG and a lower component cost that is passed on in savings to you.

A few months ago, our own [Mike Szczys] caught a glimpse of this new IOIO board. It’s the same size as the previous revision, but with USB-OTG, the new IOIO can be a master when connected to a phone, or a slave when connected to a PC.

In addition to USB-OTG, [Ytai] improved the power regulation circuit, and even went so far as to refuse royalties to the board to get the costs down. It’s currently available at Sparkfun for $40.

[Ytai] says he’s working on a few software upgrades to the IOIO, including…

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This would be great if it could be programmed to display some sort fo ambient information (e.g. general weather, market volume, news trends, etc.).



This sunrise alarm clock was made in a bit different form factor than we normally see. Instead of a box next to the bed it’s a bar above the headboard which slowly illuminates every morning. This was [Holly’s] first electronics project. She spent pretty much all summer working on it and accumulated a skill set that included designing for and operating the laser cutter and assembling and programming the electronics.

She didn’t start from square one. The hardware and programming were greatly simplified by the availability of RGB LED strips and the Monochron clock which drives them. [Holly] altered the code to bring up a blueish hue over a 35-minute time period. Since this will be used to wake her at 5:30am she was also obliged to include some backup sounds just in case. But after the project was finished and mounted she forgot to turn them on and was pleasantly…

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Recently developed iOS applications

To date, I have created two applications to run on iOS6.  The first was for an assignment, and is a relatively simple calculator app.  The second is the basis for the end-user control and feedback applications that I mention in my research on Intelligent and Adaptive Building Systems.

The Mulit-Calculator app was my first iOS app.  It behaves like any other simple calculator, but has a toggle switch that can put it into “accounting” mode where a previous result can be calculated into the next mathematical operation.  Any negative results in this mode appear in red text.  The app can also me switched to the “tip” function where the tip for a bill of a user determined amount can be calculated by altering the percentage that the tip will be of the original amount with a slider.

The Room Report app is a decidedly more complicated iOS application.  Rooms are created by the user, then Room Reports consisting of the user’s perceived room qualities are created and sorted by date.  The application interface, and front-end functionality are relatively simple.  However, beneath it all is a persistent SQLite store and Core Data Model.  This data storage framework will be the framework for future applications that I will be developing for the purpose of building control and feedback.

Core Data Model Diagram showing aBi-Directional To-Many relationship from rooms to reports.

Screen Shot 2012-12-18 at 10.21.21 AM


Google Puts Its Virtual Brain Technology to Work

Very encouraging considering Google’s track record for making these kinds of things opensource.  Having this tool should help to integrate Neural Networking into Intelligent Building Systems.

Average features: This composite image represents the ideal stimulus for Google’s software to detect a human face in a photo.
Credit: Google

From MIT’s Technology Review: This summer Google set a new landmark in the field of artificial intelligence with software that learned how to recognize cats, people, and other things simply by watching YouTube videos (see “Self-Taught Software“). That technology, modeled on how brain cells operate, is now being put to work making Google’s products smarter, with speech recognition being the first service to benefit.

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