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

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Anna Vignet/Senior Staff


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MAY 02, 2012

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.

Contact Brittany Jahn at 


MAY 02, 2012