BLACKSBURG — The third phase of Virginia Tech’s FutureHAUS, a just-completed bathroom, will be showcased this week in Las Vegas at North America’s premier annual kitchen and bath industry event.

 FutureHAUS explores new ways of building and incorporating smart technologies for homes. The applied research project also demonstrates the efficiency and quality of modular construction, and the strategy of designing homes for accessibility and lifelong living. 

The project's first phase, the FutureHAUS kitchen, created a buzz last year when it made its debut at last the same event — the Kitchen & Bath Industry Show in Las Vegas. This year's three-day event starts today.

Just like the kitchen and living room, which was completed last summer,  the bathroom explores ideas for the future that incorporates currently available cutting-edge appliance, newly created smart technology, and integrated accessible design.

The vanity raises and lowers to different heights based on settings controlled through fingerprint recognition, adjusting to the different needs of adults, children, or those in wheelchairs. The team created a smart mirror behind the vanity that contains all of the controls for the bathroom, including temperature and flow controls for the shower. Standing in a designated spot on the floor will display the user’s weight on the smart mirror. The mirror can also be set to display other useful information like the weather, local traffic information, emails and texts, calendar, and time of day all based on user preferences. 

“The mirror is your desktop,”  said Joseph Wheeler, one of the project's leaders and a professor of architecture and co-director of the Center for Design Research. “You can set it up just like your smartphone or tablet.”

Above the vanity, a ceiling fixture made up of a network of nested glass tubes displays varying light settings. Integrated night lighting within the floor automatically illuminates when it senses motion so users do not lose their way in the dark.

The floor is one solid sheet of acid-etched glass engineered to hold up for safety and for transport from factory to building site. The etching creates an anti-slip surface, and the continuous surface makes it easy to sanitize. An important feature of the floor is the integrated slip/fall detection, which can automatically notify a caregiver should the floor detect a change in frequency consistent with a fall. And to keep things clean, a robotic vacuum automatically emerges from a slot in the wall to clean the floor when the room is vacant.

The shower wall features a newly introduced solid-surface product that is form cast to provide textures and patterns. Automatic shampoo, shower gel, and conditioner dispensers keep things tidy and efficient and the smart mirror displays the levels of each so they can be replenished when they are low.

A voice-controlled projector integrated into the shower shows videos on the glass wall separating the bathtub from the shower. The tub itself is a Kohler model that offers features that go well beyond the typical bathtub, including varying music tones that create a vibration-based cleaning effect similar to a sonic jewelry cleaner.

The toilet, also from Kohler, contains numerous features for hands-free operation, comfort, and sanitation including automated and heated seats, nighttime lighting, and an integrated bidet and a drier. It also uses an air filter to maintain a hygienic, odor free environment.

The bathroom is designed to be accessible and usable without compromise to people of all ages. In fact, as the team works to build the complete FutureHAUS, one floor of the two-story house will focus on universal design and the concept of “aging in place.”  

“You’re going to walk into this place and say “wow this house is cool,” and then you’re going to realize that it’s 100 percent ADA accessible.” Wheeler explained. “When a new house is designed, it should be designed to accommodate its owner for life.  No one should ever be forced to move out of their home because the architecture cannot accommodate an elderly or handicapped user.  Investment in an age-friendly home is not expensive if the concepts are integrated from the beginning.  It’s just smart planning. We are looking at the future of how we build and how we live.”

The FutureHAUS comprises a series of “cartridges,” including the bathroom and kitchen, that can be produced and wired within a factory, creating greater quality control and integration of technology and a much more efficient construction process. Transporting the bathroom across the country to Las Vegas demonstrates the ease and efficiency with which these cartridges can be delivered fully assembled to a job site.

During the 2015 fall semester, an interdisciplinary class including students from the College of Architecture and Urban Studies and the College of Engineering researched materials, appliances, and environmental factors. Based on their findings, the students contributed their ideas for the bathroom design. In addition, the students gained hands-on experience as they built the bathroom cartridge, and some will travel to Las Vegas for its debut.

Denis Gracanin, associate professor in the College of Engineering’s Department of Computer Science, is leading the project with Wheeler. Both Wheeler and Gracanin were part of the team behind the LumenHAUS, which won the International Solar Decathlon competition in Madrid, Spain, and received a 2012 National AIA Honor Award for Excellence in Architecture.  They are also partnered with Virginia Tech’s Institute for Creativity, Arts and Technology and Macromolecules and Interfaces Institute as they pursue research in integrated technology and new materials for buildings of the future.

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