The CHIP House - which stands for "Compact Hyper-Insulated Prototype" - was started with the goal of creating a net-zero energy home (i.e. one that requires no external energy source), and it looks like the designers exceeded that target. The house actually generates three times as much energy as it uses thanks to solar panels and a host of energy saving measures.

Heat generated by the air conditioning is used to make hot water, natural light can be used at most hours of the day, and the whole house's design and ventilation system allow for the temperature to be adjusted quickly and with minimal energy usage. The CHIP House's most striking feature is the insulation fitted around the entire 750-square foot home, which makes it look like a giant mattress but also preserves the interior temperature.

The incredibly energy efficient design would make the house stand out on its own, but the integrated motion controls and smart features push the CHIP House above your typical green-conscious home and into "home of the future" material. An Xbox Kinect system tracks residents in the house, allowing them to turn appliances and lights on and off just by pointing at them. The Kinect also monitors their location and turns lights off as they exit one area and on as they move into another.

The house also includes other automatic features like closing the shades if you start a movie or the house begins to get warm, turning certain devices on when you sit in specific chairs, and gradually turning the lights on in the morning for a more natural start to the day. It even has smartphone compatibility so the lights and AC can be controlled while you're away by simply tapping on a virtual floorplan.

The whole project is the result of over two years work by more than 100 students and a partnership between Caltech and SCI-Arc. It took about US$1 million to develop, but producing a duplicate would cost around US$300,000.

The CHIP House came in 6th at the 2011 Solar Decathlon and recently opened its doors to free tours for the public, which will be available through May 31, 2012 at the California Science Center.

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