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This high-tech Airstream takes tiny living on the road

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And to Burning Man

Photos by Darren Hendrix.
Advertising exec Chris Pendl decided to fit out his Airstream trailer with home tech to make life on the road a bit smarter.

When Chris Pendl, a 36-year-old marketing executive in Seattle, decided to purchase a second dwelling for use in the great outdoors, he went with a favorite of the mobile, design-minded set: an Airstream trailer.

But this isn't any old mobile home, as Pendl explained in a recent chat with Curbed: The 400-square-foot trailer is fully equipped with smart home technology connected via products by Wink, a New York-based company whose products and app facilitate communication between home tech wares from a host of manufacturers.

We talked to Pendl about the ups and downs of life in a connected mobile home, what it's like to take a tech-enabled trailer to Burning Man, and how having a connected second home has given him some peace of mind when he's not using it.

On why home automation was the right fit:

"I've been tinkering with home automation stuff for about 6, 7 years, using products that ran on a dedicated server," Pendl explains. And it was a lot of infrastructure, he explains. "I've always been interested in being able to control things and be more energy efficient," and systems for monitoring energy use, security, and safety/comfort (think, thermostats and smoke detectors from companies like Nest) would all contribute to that goal.

"Wherever I've gone, I've replaced the switch plates," Pendl says, laughing. This goes a few steps further. First, Pendl installed Wi-Fi for the trailer using air cards, which provide Internet access over a cellular network. Pendl went with Wink to connect all the elements of his system because it presented a "lightweight" alternative to other, hardwired options for monitoring his Airstream while he is away from the trailer, which he stores an hour north of Seattle.

Also, Pendl notes, security companies he called simply couldn't install their products in the Airstream because, well, it moves. "No one does it, because of liabilities about location and police access" in an emergency.

On what the system does for him:

For one, having an ecosystem of smart home products for a variety of functions provides a sense of security when Pendl isn't at the trailer. But when he is using it, he has sensors that keep track of the Airstream's propane levels; "robots" to turn lights on and off; and one-button access to controls for lights and security cameras, etc. through the Wink app on his phone. Monitoring propane levels remotely is especially handy in the winter when plumbing and pipes need to be kept moderately warm to prevent freezing.

On taking a mobile smart home to Burning Man—and the rise of the smart home:

The Airstream holds between 35 and 40 gallons of water and Pendl also added a "bladder" that held an additional 60 gallons, which, in tandem, made the annual desert event, Pendl's first, easier to manage. "I have a wind turbine that provided electricity, too," Pendl adds. When teased a bit about having a more rarefied Burning Man experience than some seek, Pendl laughed, gamely.

“The Wink system extends the modern interior experience beyond NYC or LA or Seattle and brings it to the great outdoors," whether the "outdoors" in question are stands of redwoods in Washington State or Nevada's Black Rock Desert, where Burning Man takes place every year. When it comes to living in an automated home, "more and more people's expectations are that, ‘oh, this is how it should be.’”