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May 2, 2012

Berkeley freshman’s automated dorm room: Tech geek paradise

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UC Berkeley student Derek Low has created what might be the most awesomely automated dorm room in America.

He calls the room “BRAD,” which stands for “Berkeley Ridiculously Automated Dormroom” and he’s programmed it to do everything from waking him up in the morning to turning out the lights for him at night. That includes an instant party mode — with laser lights, strobe lights, dance music and even a fog machine — whenever he hits a wireless emergency party button.

When a different mood is required, he can tell the room to go into “romantic mode,” and the shades will close, the lights will dim, a disco ball starts to shine and some classic Elton John will automatically start playing.

The “homework mode,” which turns out all the lights in the room except the one over Low’s desk, is a little less fun.

“During my freshman year at UC Berkeley, I set out to create the most ridiculously automated dorm room in the school ever,” Low wrote in a description of a YouTube video that illustrates his room and its many features. “Three months and several hundred dollars later, BRAD has been completed!”

If you are interested in how Low managed all this automated wizardry, you are in luck. He lays out all the details in his blog, Laboratory @ Home: Product of an overly impulsive teenager.

Some highlights: On a scale of 1 to 10, he puts the difficulty of building the automated room at 4, the cost at 6 and the time at 6. He also mentions that it took him three hours just to teach the voice recognition app that came with his MacBook how to understand his Southeast Asian accent.

Although he never says exactly how much he spent on parts for the room, he puts it in the vicinity of several hundred dollars and supplies a complete list of what he used. The list includes three desk lamps; 10 appliance modules; a fog machine; laser lights; strobe lights; a wired controller microphone; a pulley, cord and motor for the curtains, a party-mode button and iPhone and iPad apps.

Getting the curtains to open and close automatically was his biggest challenge, he said, but he managed it by designing the pulley system using a small wheel, a long cord and a two-way motor. It’s painfully noisy, but it works.

Low put up the video on YouTube on Monday, and it has already been viewed more than 20,000 times.

The room has become a bit of a tourist destination on campus: When I contacted him to see if he would talk to me, he said it was a little hard to get to the phone because his room is receiving so many visitors.

Here’s hoping that emergency party button is getting a workout.

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