A Look at the Art of Motorization
We talked to theater design wiz Donny Hackett about slick ways he adds motorization to his theater projects, and we look back at four of his coolest theaters.
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Donny Hackett stands below his Eiffel Tower replica used as a room divider. Credit: Joseph Hilliard
September 01, 2010 by Steven Castle

SHOULD WE BE MOTORIZING WINDOWS MORE? Draperies and blinds should all be motorized. Keeping the sun out of unoccupied rooms can save tons on air conditioning costs during the summer. Likewise, letting the sun in during the winter saves on heating and makes it look like someone’s home. It could save you money and add security. They are not as expensive as they used to be. Of course you could rig them up yourself; those little cordless screwdrivers are quite handy for that. And borrow the remote and innards of that unused remote-controlled car.

MOTORIZATION IS EXPENSIVE, BUT CAN IT ACTUALLY SAVE SOMEONE MONEY? I guess it can be expensive, but if you control the sunlight coming through your windows that’s got to save you something. My neighbor pays $40 a week to have some bare-chested stranger cut his grass. My robots do it for pennies and keep their shirts on while they’re at it. I personally own a MartinLogan Theater center-channel speaker in my home cinema. It now shares the carpeted floor with my 4-year-old daughter and 8-year-old son. I’m finishing a lift unit for the window seat bench, which will protect the speaker from them while not in use. Saving this gorgeous electrostatic from abuse could save me money—and save my hair from falling out.

WHAT CAN MOTORIZATION MANUFACTURERS DO BETTER IN CREATING THEIR PRODUCTS? Honestly, safety. None of the lifts I installed over the years had any sort of safety stop switches. Ten years ago these units were lifting and dropping 200-pound CRTs and if your child’s finger got under that lid, “oops.” As far as I know, they are still that way. The TVs may have gotten thinner but the lifts are still dangerous. That’s just my opinion. These AC motors are extremely strong. If they could add adjustable torque sensors, making the units just strong enough to do the job and smart enough to stop if an obstruction is detected …

WHAT DO YOU THINK OF MOTORIZATION USED TO HIDE VIDEO DISPLAYS OR SCROLL ARTWORK? Hide them all, including those ugly computer monitors. If it’s not turned on, I don’t want to see it. Make them all pop up or pop down, whatever it takes. I have a few clients who have purchased beautiful artwork frames with the scrolling limited edition prints concealing flat-panel TVs over their fireplaces. But every time that I have visited these people, I walk by and see the plasma turned off and uncovered. I don’t personally sell them, but I could build you one, and it would sense that the display is off and activate.

WHAT DO WE NEED TO MOTORIZE MORE? Doors! I saw a TV ad for a minivan, in which the homeowner approaches her home, her hands full of groceries and presses the keychain remote to unlock and open the front door. Where is that? What in the name of George Jetson is taking so long? We’ve walked through them at the mall for decades, now we even have them on our vehicles. Why not in our house? I have engineered automatic doors in almost all of my home theater designs. They are safe and quiet, and the homeowners and their guests love them. If someone gets up in the middle of a movie and forgets to close the door, no problem. The answer’s right there on your touchscreen remote. How cool is that?

HOW CAN MOTORIZATION HELP THE ELDERLY, OR ASSIST WITH HOME HEALTH CARE? It is exciting to see what Japan and China are working on in terms of robotic assistance for the elderly and in hospitals. Their older citizens are living longer, and the demand for nurses and help around the home is growing quickly. We’ve all seen the medical assist scooters moving seniors around the mall and grocery stores here, but there they are working on robots that will actually lift them in and out of bed, get their food or medicine, and even keep them company.

WHAT ARE YOUR PERSONAL MOTORIZATION PROJECTS? We are currently in production with my reality TV show, called Motorize This, and the next project will feature my Trash Trolley. I always forget to take the garbage out the night before pickup, so I have devised a contraption to ferry the trash to the curb, via electric wheelchair motors, triggered by a sprinkler timer, guided by stud sensors over a buried wire, and recharged by the sunshine. Wish me luck.

YOU’RE NOT MOTORIZED, ARE YOU? Not yet … stay tuned.

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Steven Castle - Contributing Writer
Steven Castle is Electronic House's managing editor. he has been writing about consumer electronics, homes and energy efficiency topics for two decades. He is also the co-founder of GreenTech Advocates.

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