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The PlaceLab

The mission of House_n is to conduct research by designing and building real living environments - "living labs" - that are used to study technology and design strategies in context. The PlaceLab is a joint MIT and TIAX, LLC initiative. It is a residential condominium in Cambridge, Massachusetts, designed to be a highly flexible and multi-disciplinary observational research facility for the scientific study of people and their interaction patterns with new technologies and home environments.

PlaceLab elevation view rendering

Hundreds of sensing components are installed in nearly every part of the home, which is a one-bedroom condominium. These sensors are being used to develop innovative user interface applications that help people easily control their environment, save resources, remain mentally and physically active, and stay healthy. The sensors are also being used to monitor activity in the environment so that researchers can carefully study how people react to new devices, systems, and architectural design strategies in the complex context of the home.

The home is being occupied by volunteer subjects who agree to live in the home for varying lengths of time. While they occupy the facility they have no contact with researchers, and the laboratory has been designed so that data can be analyzed off the site. Researchers have the capability to monitor nearly every aspect of life in the home, particularly what people are doing and the interior and exterior environmental conditions. Tools for the semi-automatic annotation and pruning of data can aid researchers studying the enormous amounts of data that will acquired daily by the laboratory. Some occupants may be studied living in their own home environments as well using a portable toolkit of sensors that has been developed by MIT researchers. These devices make remote monitoring of people in their own homes possible for some period of time before and after they enter the PlaceLab in order to investigate pre and post-occupancy behavior changes.

The facility is managed as a multi-disciplinary shared scientific tool in the tradition of other scientific facilities developed to study unique environments such as telescopes, undersea vessels, linear accelerators, satellites, and remote inhabited communities in harsh environments such as the South Pole. Researchers in the fields of architecture, computer science, mechanical engineering, nutrition communications, user interface and product design, preventative medicine, social anthropology, and public health have expressed interest in developing studies that use the unique facility, which operates using an open submission process. Researchers can submit proposals to use the PlaceLab.High quality proposals are those that (1) can only be accomplished with the unique facilities of the PlaceLab, (2) will fundamentally increase scientific understanding of issues related to life in the home, and (3) consider the long-term implications of the technology, system, or architecture being studied. As in existing telescope facilities, complimentary and non-interfering studies will be piggybacked to fill the facility's calendar.

The PlaceLab is being used to investigate the following questions about human behavior, among others:
  • What influences the behavior of people in their homes?

  • How can technology be effective in the home context for long time periods?

  • Can technology and architectural design motivate life-extending behavior changes?

  • To what degree can measurements of activity in the home be quantified in a way useful for creating new computer applications for the home?

  • How can technology be used to simplify the control of homes of the present and future, save resources, and improve health?

  • What influences how people adjust to new environments?

  • How do people learn in the context of the home?

  • What new innovations for the home would most fundamentally alter the way we live our everyday lives?

The OPEN Prototype House Initiative may lead to the construction of additional living lab facilities.

For more information about the PlaceLab's capabilities as a scientific tool or to inquire about the possibility of planning for a study, please contact Stephen Intille. For information about volunteering to live in the PlaceLab, see our list of current study opportunities. For more information on joining the research efforts of House_n, see the sponsorship page.

Please also see our PDF document describing the PlaceLab.



Some of the technology in the PlaceLab and some PlaceLab data sets were made possible by the National Science Foundation under Grant No.0313065. Any opinions, findings and conclusions or recommendations expressed in this material are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views of the National Science Foundation (NSF).

PlaceLab island and dining
Kitchen island and dining area of the PlaceLab

PlaceLab living room The PlaceLab living room.

PlaceLab home office The PlaceLab home office

Context-triggered information Information can be delivered to inhabitants of the PlaceLab when a particular context is recognized

PlaceLab kitchen The PlaceLab kitchen

PlaceLab cabling The PlaceLab offers a sophisticated, but flexible, sensing infrastructure, made possible by literally miles of concealed cabling (this photo was taken during the construction of the PlaceLab)

TJ reveals sensors in the side panel of an interior cabinet The PlaceLab is formed by 15 prefabricated cabinetry interior components. Each contains a micro controller and network of 25 to 30 sensors. New sensors can be easily added to this network as required.



House_n Research Group
Department of Architecture
Massachusetts Institute of Technology