Does a college dormitory that touts more audiovisual equipment than most theaters, runs on electricity generated by solar panels, and is protected with biometric security sound like something from the distant future? Not if you're one of 10 Duke University engineering students chosen to live in “The Home Depot Smart Home,” a residential laboratory where students will research and develop innovative solutions for the home in areas such as security and home monitoring, communications, energy efficiency, entertainment, environment, and health.

“The goal of this program is to provide an immersive and innovative project-based learning environment that students can be involved in throughout their undergraduate careers,” says Kristina M. Johnson, dean of Duke's Pratt School of Engineering. “We also hope to transfer what we learn to homeowners who want to incorporate smart technology into their own homes.”

Craig Menear, senior vice president of merchandising at The Home Depot, says his company is proud to sponsor this live-in research laboratory.

“Our objectives are threefold: to create a home environment that incorporates innovative solutions that simplify life, to better understand the technology behind these solutions, and ultimately to bring this technology to the consumer market,” Menear says.

The Home Depot's sponsorship is valued at an estimated $2 million in cash and in-kind donations over a three-year period to cover the cost of the dorm construction.

The 6,000-sq-ft house will be located on the university's central campus in Durham, N.C. Construction has begun, and the house is slated to be completed by fall 2007. Bovis Lend Lease, based in Raleigh, N.C., is the contractor for the project.

The facility will be a combination residence hall, undergraduate research laboratory, and engineering outreach project that will house 10 upper-class engineering students each year. It will serve as a technology prototype assembly and testing center where students — including the dorm residents, more than 100 student members of the Duke Smart House Club, and entire engineering classes — can test new residential technology ideas developed by Duke students. The occupants will live with the design ideas of the larger group to provide feedback on issues such as technology usability and adoption, energy efficiency, and automated control.

In a smart home, technology is used to anticipate the wide range of residents' needs (from security to shower temperature to surround-sound stereo), minimize waste, maximize reuse and recycling, and enhance quality of life.