Here on the Sweet Apps Blog, we love to hear about the successes of our LabVIEW users. Even better, we love to hear about when our LabVIEW users have won awards, prizes, trophies and the like for their cutting-edge solutions.

One of our Academic Field Engineers, Andy Watchorn, forwarded us some breaking news regarding the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and their entry in the 2009 Solar Decathlon, hosted by the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE). Twenty teams of college and university students competed to design, build, and operate the most attractive, effective, and energy-efficient solar-powered house. The competition focus is on utilizing renewable energy as much as possible, and using it efficiently.

Our friends at University of Illinois ended up taking second place overall! Woo-hoo! John Simon gives us a virtual tour of their award-winning, Gable Home design:

I had the opportunity to sit down with Jon Ehlmann, who designed the Gable Home’s custom, energy-efficient, heating, ventilation and air-conditioning (HVAC) system, one of the key differentiators that made their entry so successful. He makes some very interesting points about why a custom, flexible HVAC makes the Gable Home’s automation system “future proof.”

What is your technical background and how were you involved in the Gable Home project?

I am an electrical engineering graduate student with an emphasis in power electronics.  I did all of the coding of the HVAC, and worked closely with 2 Mech-Es to figure out the electrical portion of the HVAC system and control strategy.

Why did you choose LabVIEW to control the HVAC?

I chose to use LabVIEW to develop the Gable Home’s Automation system for many reasons. First, I looked at a number of turn-key solutions on the market for home automation and noticed they fell short in at least 1 area, and were very expensive.  Some couldn’t monitor power. Some were hard to install.  This is why I chose to do a custom system.

I chose LabVIEW mainly because it is very easy to integrate different hardware.  In my case I had to integrate data acquisition (DAQ) for power monitoring, DAQ for HVAC control, and a power line modem to interface with Insteon smart switches and outlets.  I also felt the ability to customize the software to nearly any hardware is especially important with talk of adoption of a smart power grid and smart appliances.  By having a custom solution, our house is more “future-proof”

I had to write a custom serial driver for the Insteon PowerLinc Modem (PLM).  The NI VISA drivers were very helpful in interfacing with the PLM.  LabVIEW’s remote front panels made remote monitoring of the house very straightforward to implement.  I also chose LabVIEW because of its graphical programming environment.  This environment is fantastic for rapidly developing software.

How long did it take you to build?

Three very busy months.  I was given the project in the summer because our original controls group graduated and hadn’t really gotten anything done beside very conceptual work.  In fact, when I contacted the Insteon rep he said had been working with Cornell’s team for over a year and had doubts whether I would be able to control the lights by competition.   Not only did I control the lights, I also controlled the HVAC and monitored power.  LabVIEW’s graphical programming language really helped with the rapid development of this system.

What did you appreciate most about NI tools?

LabVIEW”s graphical programming language made programming easy, and the DAQmx drivers made measurement and control easy.

Thanks for sharing Jon, and congratulations on your award-winning design.

For more information, check out their team website:

Now, how do I make a reservation to stay at this sweet crib?