• Freshman R.J. Ryan hits the 'emergency' button in his automatic dorm room on East Campus. The button activates 'party mode.'

    Photo / Donna Coveney

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  • Freshman Zack Anderson can check the weather at the monitor by the sink in his fully automated dorm room.

    Photo / Donna Coveney

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Freshmen automate dorm room

Little by little, freshmen Zack Anderson and R.J. Ryan, residents of East Campus, have turned an ordinary, standard-issue dorm room into something extraordinary: a fully automated pad.

Gone are the light switches and glaring fluorescent lights of a typical dorm room. Anderson and Ryan's room has several lighting schemes, remote web access, voice activation, a security system, electric blinds and more.

The two roommates were perfectly suited, according to Anderson, who had extensive mechanical experience, while Ryan had done many programming projects. Together, they created a vision for their room:

"We wanted full dorm-room automation," Anderson said. "I have always wanted to do something like this."

With the touch of one red button, their dorm room becomes a rave. The lights go out, the blinds close, the displays read, "feel the energy" as a voice repeats the same phrase over a deep bass beat.

Called party mode, the rave also features a sound-activated strobe light, laser light show, fog machine, black lights, revolving disco light and much more. Although they can only squeeze roughly 10 people in their room, Ryan and Anderson like to keep their door open during dorm social events with party mode in full swing.

The party mode function is so popular that when Anderson posted a video of the room on Youtube.com, a video-sharing web site open to the general public, there were more than 120,000 views from around the country.

Anderson and Ryan call their system a "Multifunction In-Dorm Automation System" (MIDAS). Everything in the room can be controlled with just the touch of a button or a couple of voice commands, from the window shade to the closet light and stereo.

Anderson and Ryan had more than parties in mind when they designed their room. During relax mode, soft music plays and the lights dim. During sleep mode, the lights shut down completely while soft music plays. Study mode brings the lights back up and plays music that will not distract.

The loft beds have a direct view of the small black-and-white televisions that monitor the hallways.

A camera hidden inside an empty can above the entrance to Ryan and Anderson's room serves as a security system so the two always know who is at the door. But they did not stop there.

The room also has a custom alarm system with motion detectors, a fingerprint scanner for deactivation and a revolving siren light. If the siren and light are activated, Anderson receives a text message. "It prevents break-ins," Anderson said.

All of the room's controls can be tweaked remotely from a computer with Internet access. Cameras in the room allow both Anderson and Ryan to monitor the room when they are away. "We could be in China and still see what is happening in this room," Anderson said.

Asked if their neighbors mind, Ryan said with a laugh, "They are actually happy with it. This is the perfect dorm for a project like this."

The two roommates will be parting ways next year, so they are planning to disassemble the room and divide their work. Although no college students have hired them yet to build something similar in their dorm rooms, they have had some interesting offers.

"People have asked if they could buy the whole system," Anderson said.

For more information, visit web.mit.edu/zacka/www/midas.html.

A version of this article appeared in MIT Tech Talk on May 24, 2006 (download PDF).

Topics: Computer science and technology, Electrical engineering and electronics, Innovation and Entrepreneurship (I&E), Mechanical engineering, Campus buildings and architecture, Students


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