Classic Computer Magazine Archive CREATIVE COMPUTING VOL. 9, NO. 8 / AUGUST 1983 / PAGE 90

The house of the future: complete computer control. (Arizona) Catrien Ross Laetz.

The House of the Future:

Complete Computer Control

As Don Sheppard punches his special code into the electronic keypad at the entryway, a monotone computer voice says, "Welcome-home-Don-come-rightin.' The front door then glides open.

Once inside, Don can rely on the computer to lock the door behind him, turn the lights on, and adjust the room temperature to the most comfortable level. In the kitchen he can use the computer terminal to check the day's messages, enter tomorrow's appointments and retrieve a favorite recipe. After dinner, if he feels like relaxing, he can put his feet up in the entertainment room and play a leisurely game of computer chess. He can also catch up on computer educational programs on the large color TV. When he finally goes to bed he can rest easy, because the computer will function as a security system that will alert his sleeping form to intruders, break-ins, or fire.

Sheppard is not really the resident of this futuristic home. He is, however, its computer program manager--the man in charge of this exciting Arizona project involving complete computer control of the home. The project--the only one of its kind--is called, appropriately enough, the House of the Future.

Opened in 1980, the House of the Future was designed to be a showcase for state-of-the-art electronic innovations. Since then it has served as a "living laboratory' for the latest in computer technology, manufacturing techniques and energy management methods. Today, it continues as a test bed for the newest ideas in computer design and application for tomorrow's world.

The structure itself is a 3100 square foot, copper-trimmed prism rising out of the Arizona desert. Computer-controlled solar collectors on the south face of the house provide 75% of the heating and 95% of the domestic hot water needs. Large translucent fiberglass panels (used instead of windows) are also regulated by microprocessors.

Inside, the house is as startling as it is outside. Sharply angled rooms display a riot of primary colors. A triangle motif, based on an "Indian Jewelery' theme, is echoed throughout, in colors of pink, orange, green and turquoise. A lush atrium and fountains surround the conversation pit, where a heatilator fire-place reaches up to the 32-foot ceilings.

For the moment, the only permanent resident of the House of the Future is the computer. That monotone voice which greets visitors belongs to a unique, Motorola-designed five-unit computer network which serves as the nerve center of the building. Based on Motorola's MC6800 microprocessor, the computer does much more than greet visitors and open doors, however. The microcomputer system is actually a sophisticated home manager which monitors and controls everything from outside temperature to what's cooking in the oven.

As the "living' organism within this "living laboratory,' the computer responds to internal and external stimuli and makes decisions and adjustments accordingly. It measures temperature and decides whether or not to open or close cooling windows, for example.

It also determines the humidity level of the air (in order to turn on a special evaporative cooler). And it maintains different temperatures at different times of the day in different parts of the house, thereby meeting heating and cooling needs in the most efficient manner.

As far as technological know-how is concerned, the Home Management System in the house is considered a pioneer in the field of computer control of the home. Although it was designed two years ago, it uses a distributed processing network, a concept which is at the forefront of computerized industrial application today. Such a network minimizes response time from input ot action and preserves system integrity under failure conditions. The system also uses such things as table managers to maintain and act on tables of data relating to energy and security control throughout the home.

The main problems confronting the average homeowner desirous of controlling his home by computer are those of wiring the house and converting control signals--actually finding a way for the computer to communicate with home appliances. In the House of the Future these problems have been resolved successfully. Wiring was taken care of because the computer was installed as the house was being built. Signal communication is achieved through digital input/output boards which sense switch closures of door keypads, wall switches, smoke detectors and motion detectors. In addition, an analog board handles analog input flow, temperature and humidity sensors, and watt transducers.

The display/keyboard card was custom desingned. It provides alphanumeric and graphic displays in eight colors and is based on the MC6874 video display generator and the MC1372 modulator. These devices are ideal for homeowner spplications such as TV games and personal computers.

At the primary microcomputer node, located in the entertainment room, there is a screen printer and a dual floppy drive (Motorola EXOR disk). The entertainment room node also has a readout display, as does the master bedroom node and the kitchen node. The fourth microcomputer node is in the laundry room; the fifth is just outside the entertainment room.

All software for the House of the Future computer is written in Motorola's high-level language, MPL. It permits structured programming and allows software to be developed in a very short period of time. The software consists of an operating system package and an applications package which reside in each of the five microprocessor nodes.

The Home Management System of the House of the Future controls five main areas--information, security, environment, electrical load switching, and energy management.


As an information manager the computer can be used for the storage and retrieval of text and graphic information. Everything from addresses, recipes, vital records, and upcoming events can be stored under a file name on a floppy disk. In addition, there is a special type of information which is retrieved by date rather than name. This "desk calendar' mode functions as a convenient family activity planner.


The House of the Future has no traditional locks. The security measures used are entirely dependent on the innovative computer system. At the front door, the computer activates a solenoid which glides open the panel when the correct personal code is entered into the keypad. The security function can also cycle lights throughout the rooms when residents are away from home. In the case of fire, the computer sets off smoke detectors and calls out Fire!, Fire! When an intruder is sensed, alarms are sounded, lights come on, and the computer pinpoints exactly where the intrusion has occurred. Closed circuit TV cameras continually survey the front entrance as well as pool and patio areas.


So that the computer can properly control the environment, the House of the Future is divided into three zones, each of which is treated as if it had its own thermostat. The homeowner thus uses heating and cooling only where it is desired. For example, at night, the bedrooms only can be heated or cooled, without having to heat up or cool down the entire house.

The computer system senses the temperatures and then reacts by choosing the heating or cooling equipment that will respond to climactic conditions in the most energy-efficient manner. If the central part of the house is too warm, the computer will first check the outside temperature to determine whether doors and window panels should be opened. If so, the computer opens appropriate panels and doors to let cooler air inside. If the outside air is too warm, the system might choose to turn on the evaporative cooler. But first of all it determines the humidity level in the air. If the air is too humid, the computer turns on the air conditioning system.

Electrical Load Switching

The function of electrical load switching is to monitor wall switches and activate wall outlets and appliances under software control. Because a wall switch can perform any function defined by the homeowner, it could conceivably control any or even several functions based on considerations such as time of day. Due to this electrical load switching function, the Home Management System controls and monitors all electrical functions in the home.

Energy Management

In the House of the Future, there is no need to worry about lights being left on in unused rooms. Installed motion detectors are used to turn lights on and off whenever someone enters or leaves a room. Another energy saving method is use of time of day control. This allows the swimming pool filter and pump to be automatically cycled on and off for energy conservation.

The system also monitors energy usage for the entire house. This means that the data provided can be used to make decisions regarding optimum use of appliances. The homeowner can monitor consumption rates in terms of dollars and cents and thus can effectively change total energy usage to conserve.

Under the Display Process of the Home Management System, there are five basic activities for the homeowner to choose from. They are: Information Actions, Calendar Actions, Monitor Actions, Program Actions, and Special Actions.

Each of these actions lets the homeowner enter, store, delete, and review pertinent data. By selecting, say Information Actions, the homeowner can, by means of the elementary screen editor, create text and graphics on the screen. This information can be stored on the disk under an eight-character file name, ready for future retrieval or modification.

In Calendar Actions the Display Process prompts for a date and message to be entered. Later, when information for a specific date is requested, the text of the appropriate message is displayed.

Monitor Actions displays the status of all major system processes, including security, energy management, environmental and load managers. Each of these processes returns data pertaining to load statuses, energy consumption, and room temperatures. This important information is then formatted by the Display Process which displays it on the screen for analysis by the homeowner.

Program Actions let the homeowner add, delete, or examine entries from the control tables of processes. Because a critical control parameter might be changed, the Display Process incorporates a level of access privilege using passwords for protection.

Special Actions is simply a means to change passwords, arm, disarm, or clear security alarms and to back up disks.

At a time when the questions of computer-controlled homes is only just being confronted, the House of the Future offers a showcase of exciting possibilities. As a successful experiment in innovative applications of off-the-shelf hardware and software, this unique structure points the way for manufacturer and consumer alike.

The House of the Future shows that computer control of the home can be, and indeed has been achieved. And if its Home Management System is anything to go by, then the average homeowner can look forward to increasingly widespread use of computers to monitor and control every conceivable house function.

As a herald of tomorrow's world, Arizona's House of the Future is an indication that the computer-controlled American home is just around the corner--available for anyone and everyone who has ever dreamed of its creativity and convenience.

Photo: Rising out of the Arizona desert, the copper trimmed structure of the House of the Future houses a unique system for complete computer control of the home.

Photo: Triangle motifs and courageous color schemes are echoed throughout the bright, light interior.

Photo: A computer display terminal is conveniently located in the kitchen of the House of the Future.

Photo: The master bedroom was designed with a built-in video display terminal as part of the furnishings.

Photo: The primary microcomputer node is this built-in node and display terminal located in the entertainment room.