Faces of Berkeley: Derek Low, the mind behind B.R.A.D.

UC Berkeley freshman creates automated haven of dorm room

Anna Vignet/Senior Staff
Anna Vignet/Senior Staff
Anna Vignet/Senior Staff

At first glance, UC Berkeley freshman Derek Low’s dorm room seems like a normal triple — two parallel bunk beds line the walls, furniture is crammed into every corner, and a few colorful posters are tacked to the closet doors.

But a closer look reveals motion detectors at the room’s entrance, wires fastened to the walls, a disco ball hanging from the ceiling, and what looks like standard Berkeley quirkiness turns into a feat of magic as the curtains close on their own at the press of a button on Low’s bedside.

The room is nestled on the fourth floor of Griffiths Hall in Unit 2 and home to Low, an international student from Singapore majoring in electrical engineering and computer science who began the spring semester with a vision to create an automated haven.

Low embarked on his mission in February and completed it Sunday with the final cost of materials, most purchased second hand from Amazon and eBay, totaling between $200 and $300.

Hype about the room began to spread Sunday night when Low released a video on YouTube displaying the different gadgets and features of the room.  The title of the video is B.R.A.D. which stands for “Berkeley Ridiculously Automated Dorm,” a fitting name Low has given for the elaborate long-term project

“I finished on Sunday night and uploaded the video on Monday at 10 a.m.,” Low said. “I went to sleep for a bit, and it just went viral. It was pretty impressive.”

According to Low, not very many people knew about the project aside from his roommates and a few floormates.

“I tried to keep it private because I wanted this to be a surprise,” he said. “I didn’t want people to see it progressing.”

His floormate, freshman Elaine Horng, recalls Low arriving at the beginning of the semester with project materials but not explicitly saying for what the supplies would be used.

“When I asked him what he was going to do with the supplies, he said, ‘You will see in a couple months,’” Horng said. “I thought it was pretty cool.”

Pretty cool is right. Features of the room include a strobe light, a black light, a laser light and a disco ball, all of which can be turned on with buttons throughout the room, as well as with voice recognition software on his computer or an i-Phone app. The voice commands also activate different modes such as a party mode, which syncs dance music to green lasers that begin to flash at the press of a emergency red button.

Low was first inspired to create the room by an MIT student, who released a similar video of an automated dorm room in 2006. Because it was released six years ago, Low said he hoped to take the same concept and upgrade it with today’s technology.

Low’s roommates were supportive of his project but were not involved in the construction.

“Derek was just kind of doing his own thing — I didn’t really question it,” said Jimmy Li, Low’s roommate. “I use it to turn the lights on and off. It’s nice to have this stuff around.”

Low used heavy duty tape, zip ties and binder clips to secure wires, buttons and motion detectors to the walls and ceiling in the room, ensuring that he would not violate Residential and Student Service Programs’ policy.

The residence hall policy states “misuse or tampering with fire safety equipment including, but not limited to, removal of doors, door closures, and unapproved posting is prohibited.”

Because Low has various extension cords and light fixtures affixed throughout the room, an electrician was sent Wednesday afternoon to assess the space, but nothing deserving of a violation was found.

Despite the creative measures he took, residence hall officials have asked Low to appear at a judicial hearing this week because he is allegedly in violation of housing policies, and the room is a potential fire hazard, according to Low.

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  • Guestabc

    Too bad he didn’t do more with the technology than to create a disco.

  • Administrative Abuse

    the electrician’s visit ought to have been the end of it.

    if anyone still believed that the administration was capable of acting in good faith, let this episode dispel that notion permanently

  • Maythe4th

    Uni used to be a place where people with ideas and will-to-do were rewarded… oh well.

  • Guest

    How many girls did this guy pull last year? Time to invest your time into a better project. 

  • Wtflahole

    An Asian majoring in electrical engineering at UC Berkeley, now that is a novelty!

  • I hope that the RSSP chillaxes a bit with this. This guy is pretty awesome; I’d date him ;)

    • Guest

      Cool! :)

  • anon

    Social consciousness at ucb used to mean more than disco balls…

    • I_h8_disqus

      Shouldn’t you be in Albany farming or in a tent outside of the regents?

    • Guest

      Jealous of creativity, aren’t you?

  • Thetruth

    Question: Why are the residence hall staff always the most rules-obsessed employees on campus? 

    Answer: Because they have the most unnecessary job on campus. 
    Save $$, fire a residence hall staffer. 

    • Matt

       Real answer: (1. question is ill-informed) 2. When the fire marshal comes to yell at the residence hall staff, make sure to give them your contact info so they know whose idea it was to not follow fire code.

      • Space goddessy

        Aw poor baby might get yelled at. Like anyone would care. Way to adopt the compartmentalized nature of your loser job as part of your loser identity.

        • Guest

          Matt needs to get a life. His cohorts’ harassment of people like Derek Low is idiotic.

      • Guest

        Stop harassing creative people and get a life.

      • Matt (v 2.1)

        My facepalm for you has just gone psychedelic. That, dear sir, is how much you suck… beyond explanation.

    • Thetruthhurts

      You can’t steal Allen Iverson monaker

  • Rob24

    Stupid GDI 

    • anon

      Does independence frighten u?

    • Guest

      From a Greek who drinks and parties all the time and who can’t respect creativity.

  • “Because Low has various extension cords and light fixtures affixed throughout the room, an electrician was sent Wednesday afternoon to assess the space, but nothing deserving of a violation was found.” –Really? Extension cords and lights? Perhaps they ought to check out my dorm them… I’ve got about 2o things plugged in on just my side of the room with lots of extension cords. oops. Oh well, it will be gone in a week and a half.

    However,  he did do a couple things that are probably ambiguous at best under RSSP terms. I mean, it was WAS more than just cords and lights:

    That said, I really don’t think he deserves trouble if he returns the room to normal. I hope they end up dismissing his case.

    • Guest

      The residence hall officials are fucking assholes.

  • Mina Azarnoush

    What Low did is so awesome, and I don’t really appreciate the way the UC Dorm people are handling it, they’re dealing with it a bit to harshly in my opinion. I understand that there are rules that need to be abided by, but a Judicial Hearing…..I mean come on! It’s not like he was growing marijuana in his dorm, he was just trying to liven up the tiny, prison-like dorm rooms that the UCs charge exorbitant amounts of money for.

    On another note, this article was beautifully written!

    • Matt

      I’m pretty sure asking him to talk with them (aka judicial hearing) is the least harsh way of doing things…

      In the event that he can’t hang his disco ball from the fire sprinkler pipe (which you can’t, it’s against FIRE CODE), then they’ll ask him to move it.

      It’s not like the professional staff member of the building can just say “oh don’t worry about fire code, the fire marshall doesn’t care, and I sure won’t get yelled at for not following the fire marshall.”

      • Jay

        Are you sure it is against fire code?

      • Space goddessy

        Oh, oh, “the *professional* staff member”? REALLY?

        Look, I see you on the other comments whoring for RSSP, it’s obvious you’re one of them and can’t see beyond your little box. You sad, sad little cog. Fortunately we do not determine the utility of things based on their effect on your pointless, futureless, dead end job which for some brainwashed reason you apparently strongly identify with and internalize.

        You’re afraid you “might” get yelled at by somebody for something that’s not even a violation – that says everything about your gutless, unquestioning, don’t rock the boat/don’t stand out/just following orders/go with the flow approach to life (or should I say, sleepwalking through it). Oh no, we’ve unsettled one of the cogs! No wonder you couldn’t make yourself into something better.

        • Guest

           Wow bro you are mad

          • Guest

            You and your resident hall staff member friends need to get a life.

      • Guest

        Get a life, asshole. Harassing creative people because of your own insecurities is downright mean-spirited.