Technology for the Smart Apartment

This project is for the the design and construction of an Internet connected home office or "smart apartment". As well as providing the design for a real apartment, it is intended the design documents will be published to promote the design of net connected homes and offices.

A home filled with technology is not smart

Previous efforts to design internet enabled homes have been relatively superficial. The Sydney Ihome, is a good example. Net fridges, plasma wall screens and remote control appliances provide little practical function, but cost quarter of a million dollars:

... The prototype home set up at 77 Bowman Street, Pyrmont in inner Sydney is a funky three-storey terrace which has become Australia's first entirely Internet-enabled home... Fighting for pride of place is permanent broadband Internet access, 42-inch plasma screens, an in-house audio system that pipes MP3 songs throughout the home, videoconferencing facilities and a multi-media editing suite... control of household appliances (from a series of touch screens or wireless touch pads) at your fingertips. This includes an electrical and lighting network, Internet connected video cameras, the automatic locking and unlocking of doors, curtains and blind operation and a garden watering system. You can even kick-start the coffee machine so it's percolating when you reach the kitchen. ... iHome, with an eggshell value of AU$750,000 and a quarter of a million dollars worth of technology ... Australia's first 'Internet home' unveiled, By Rachel Lebihan, ZDNet Australia, November 8, 2000 7:53 PM PT
Australia's much talked about Internet Home was recently sold with a AU$950,000 price tag, but the guts were ripped out of the high-tech house -- once fully decked out with whiz-bang gadgetry and broadband due to lack of market interest. Aust Net home sold with low-tech specs, By Rachel Lebihan, ZDNet Australia News, 09 August 2001

Such technological fantasties have been lampooned by Scott Adams with his Dilbert/IDEO smart cubicle system.

The average home can't afford a quarter of a million dollars worth of technology and doesn't need a remote control coffee pot. What could instead be done with $10,000 in a real apartment?

Flexibility the Priority

The design objective for the "Smart Apartment" is more limited and more focused than the "iHome", which tried to cram as much technology as possible into one house. The Smart Apartment aims to provide a low cost, unobtrusive home office for one or two hi-tech office workers. The facilities should be dual use, being able to be used for entertainment when not needed for work. There is no requirement for control of household appliances, video cameras, automatic locking and unlocking of doors, curtains and blind operation or a garden watering system. An in-house audio system, videoconferencing facilities and multi-media editing suite might be provided, if feasible at little or no cost. Starting the coffee machine remotely is not required.

Home offices are usually located in a spare bedroom, on the dining table or an old desk in the corner of the lounge. Equipment and paperwork from there quickly overflows to cover surrounding surfaces, creating clutter and becoming mixed with non-business household items. Some new home designs incorporate a small workspace build into a kitchen bench, or a corridor alcove. While these look good on the plans, working in a corridor or squeezed in next to the stove is not pleasant and space for equipment and paperwork is not provided.

What is required is a generous amount of work space, with provision for equipment and paperwork, with a way to lock away the business materials when not in use. A home office is also likely to be subject to more changes than a dedicated office and so needs the flexibility to accommodate equipment, storage and personal changes.

Modular wardrobe/kitchen with the design

Modern kitchens and wardrobes are built in factories in module form then installed in the home. The components for these are mass produced and available at low cost. Made from manufactured wood (such as MDF) which can easily have extra holes for cables added, they can be used to provide a low cost home office structure.

The Military Command Center as a Model for the Home Office

The military concept of "fitted for but not with" used for military command and control centers can be applied to flexible, low cost home office. The modular furniture can be designed to accommodate equipment and infrastructure which may be installed later. This approach overcomes the cost of later modifying the structure to fit the equipment and the cost of fitting cabling which may not be needed.

As an example, in place of fixed, concealed power and data cabling, generously sized cable ways can be installed in the home office. The cable ways can be simply holes large enough to fit a plug, drilled at strategic points in cabinets and desks. This approach allows cabling to be added later by the user.

Some Technology for the Home Office

Internet Connection

TransACT Set Top BoxAs this apartment is to be located in Canberra it can use Transact's data network. The average home worker will not need a very high speed connection, so a 256kbps Download, 64kbps Upload connection should be adequate (cost: approximately $49.95 per month). This has the advantage of operating though a digital set top box, which is provided by Transact as part of their domestic service. The set-top-box also provides digital video and video on demand which can be used for entertainment.


D-LinkAir DI-713P IWireless A personal computer can be connected directly to the set-top-box. However, it would be prudent to use a firewall for network security and a router to allow more than one computer to be connected at a time. Combined "SOHO" products are available providing these functions. Some also provide a print server and IEEE 802.11b Wireless Ethernet. For example such as D-Link's Air DI-713P (cost: about $790).

Remote Control and Video

Digitor Commander Remote Control Wireless AV Link Ideally a PDA size device with a Wireless Ethernet card could be used as a universal home remote control and cordless telephone. However, for the present such devices are not affordable or practical. Instead an infrared (IR) universal remote control, such as SIMA's Model SUR-20, sold in Australia by Dick Smith as the Digitor Commander Remote Control (about $162) could be used (the manual for this unit is available online). Video and audio can be transmitted between rooms with a wireless analogue transmitter, such as the Allthings Video Sonic TX/RX AV System.


Brother Personal FAX 515The humble telephone still has a place in the home office. As the hi-tech worker will be spending most of their time at the keyboard, not on the phone, a sophisticated telephone is not required. For receiving occasional facsimiles a low cost (under $300) thermal paper fax machine can be used. These typically include an automatic paper cutter (to cut the rolls of paper to page size), a multi page document feeder for sending facsimiles and a telephone handset. Perhaps the most useful feature is distinctive ring detection. This allows the telephone line to have an extra facsimile number associated with it at a modest cost ($4.40 per month for Telstra's "Duet" service").

UNIDEN AUSTRALIA - DECT1811 Cordless telephoneCordless telephone: DECT (Digital Enhanced Cordless Telecommunications) standard modestly priced (about $250) digital cordless telephones have recently been introduced into Australia. The DECT standard also has provision for data devices and, in theory, could be used for a remote control and data access. However, devices for this are not readily available.

Structured Cabling

IntraHub An alternative to wireless transmission for data, telephones and video is to cable the home with "structured cabling". This runs cable from wall outlets back to a central patch panel, where they can be connected together as needed. Telephones and data can use the same type of cable (commpnly called "CAT5e"), while video requires separate coaxial cable. Some communications hubs require a technician to rearrange connections. Units, such as such as IntraVisions's IntraHub Communications Hub, use standard plugs and cables which the home owner can move.

Further Information

This document is:

Copyright Tom Worthington 2001-2002