A Solar-Powered House You Control With Xbox Kinect

SCI-Arc and Caltech show off their award-winning Solar Decathlon house at the California Science Center in Los Angeles.

The dirty little secret about energy-efficient architecture is that it requires a whole lot of work. You can build what seems like the greenest house in the world, but it won’t live up to its potential if you don’t manage the sun screens and adjust the thermostat and flip off the lights religiously when you leave. So SCI-Arc and Caltech want to make things as easy as possible: They’ve developed a net-zero solar home that you control by waving your hands.


The Compact, Hyper-Insulated Prototype Solar House (CHIP) has an Xbox Kinect for a master command center that lets residents tweak lights and shades using basic gestural movements, like pointing and sweeping their arms. Too forgetful (or just plain lazy) for that? The house has a 3-D camera that can track your movements and automatically switch off the lights behind you.

The point is to streamline the complexities of home-energy management–to present them in a centralized, intuitive way. “Further developments of this technology are underway which include the controlling of all electronic equipment, the appliances, and the climate control of the home,” project manager Reed Finlay tells Co.Design. We ask if that means you can pop a bowl of tomato soup in the microwave and wiggle your fingers to make it cook for two minutes. “In the future,” he says, “yes.”


CHIP won first place in the energy balance contest at the U.S. Department of Energy’s Solar Decathlon in September. Its other innovative features include: 45 Hanwha solar panels, which generate three times more power than the house consumes (that’s enough to charge two electric vehicles); an asymmetrical frame, whose roof tilts down at the south end and up at the north end to harvest the maximum amount of solar energy; and a quilted facade that insulates the hell out of the building (so what if it looks like like a giant maxi pad?).

CHIP is now on view at the California Science Center in downtown L.A. More info here.

[Images courtesy of SCI-Arc]


About the author

Suzanne LaBarre is the editor of Co.Design. Previously, she was the online content director of Popular Science and has written for the New York Times, the New York Observer, Newsday, I.D.