After two weeks of competition, Virginia Tech’s FutureHAUS Dubai team has won first place in the 2018 Solar Decathalon Middle East in Dubai. The team was the only US-based entry out of 15 in the global competition, which challenges participants to erect and test sustainable, grid-connected, solar-powered home models.

A team of two dozen students and faculty, including recent graduates, spent over a month in Dubai preparing the FutureHAUS and participating in the competition. On top of winning first place overall, FutureHAUS Dubai also placed in the top three in six sub-contests: first place in architecture, first place in creative solutions, second place in energy efficiency, second place in interior design, third place in sustainability, and third place in engineering and construction.

The FutureHAUS Dubai home was the culmination of almost two years of research and two years of development with an interdisciplinary team of students and faculty from Virginia Tech’s College of Architecture and Urban Studies, College of Engineering, Myers-Lawson School of Construction, Pamplin College of Business, College of Liberal Arts and Human Sciences, and College of Science.

“We have the most interdisciplinary team that we’ve ever had around any research project, and that’s what it takes. That’s the secret,” says Joe Wheeler, architecture professor and lead faculty of FutureHAUS Dubai. “That’s the formula to making something this amazing.”

The model is built from a series of separate but compatible “cartridges”, which come pre-equipped with wiring, plumbing, finishes, and other features. These cartridges can be assembled in a “plug-and-play” fashion, and modified at any time to change the shape of the home. A core electric “spine” connects the cartridges and links them to the main mechanical room. The home’s energy system enables it to generate enough energy to sell back to the grid, and its garden incorporates native plants suited to the desert environment, including four matured olive trees.

The home is equipped with a total of 67 smart devices, including touchscreen control panels, automatic sliding doors, a smart mirror that helps users find their clothes, and a sink that can pour the precise amount of water needed for drinking or cooking. It is also able to recognize individual users based on voice, gestures, fingerprints, and facial recognition, and may adjust the home’s features to accommodate their needs. A series of 116RC Heavy-Duty Linear Track Systems, provided in partnership with Accuride International, enable the home to automatically adjust the heights and placements of the home’s kitchen cabinets, bathroom vanities and toilets based on the needs of the next recognized user.

“We’re demonstrating how a house can automatically adapt to the needs of every individual who lives in it,” Wheeler says. “FutureHAUS makes it possible for a couple to stay in the same house for life, and for a home to accommodate every resident – for example, from a toddler to a tall teenage basketball player to an aging person in a wheelchair. The Heavy-Duty Linear Track from Accuride was exactly what we needed and has surpassed our expectations.”

Given two weeks to construct its home on-site, the FutureHAUS Dubai team was the first to complete its project in under two days, as well as the first to connect to the site’s electric grid, monitoring systems, and communications network. The team was one of seven to receive bonus points for completing all required inspections within the two-week timeframe.

This timeline, according to Wheeler, demonstrates the efficiency of the FutureHAUS Dubai’s construction process. “I’m more excited than ever to see that this thing is really a solution to the future of how we build. This is the solution.”

As a concept, the project aimed to create “a new way to build and a new way to live,” according to Wheeler, addressing the real and impending needs of the world’s population without the pressure to turn an immediate profit. The project’s university setting allowed Wheeler and his time to innovate freely, and manufacturers – including Accuride, Kohler, DuPont, Linak, and Glass Dynamics - have been able to use the FutureHAUS as a test bed for innovations of their own.

The team is already researching a means of producing the FutureHAUS and its cartridges at scale, including a concept for a manufacturing facility. In theory, this model could allow high-homes to be built more quickly and more efficiently, with tradespersons working together at the same factory throughout the build process.

“We have always believed in this concept, but now the world believes in this concept as well,” says Laurie Booth, a fourth-year architecture student from Charlotte, North Carolina and student team lead of FutureHAUS Dubai. “[The concepts proposed by FutureHAUS are] all things that, now that we’ve built it, seem very real, seem very possible, which excites me the most: that maybe someday, thousands of people could live in a house like this.”