UIST Student Competition

We brought 3 different projects to the UIST student competition this year. Every year, the competition is centered around a piece of new technology that students are challenged to think of creative and interesting uses for. This year, the technology was the Kinoma Create, an arduino-like board with sensor inputs and outputs as well as a touch screen and web capabilities all built-in. Programs for the Kinoma are written in JavaScript, lowering the barrier for people who have never used pins before to make interesting hardware systems.

The Kinoma fits in well with an HCI concept called the Internet of Things. If you think of the regular Internet as a bunch of connected pages of digital information, then the Internet of Things is the same, but with physical objects. It is about physical objects knowing information about other physical objects, controlling other objects, knowing information about the environment or from the web, communicating that information, and acting based on that information. Because of the sensor and web capabilities of the Kinoma, it lends itself well to adding objects to the Internet of Things. The student competition from UIST required us to use the Kinomas to invent something for the kitchen or general household.

The competition inspired us to think about our vision for the smart kitchen of the future. If we could build a kitchen from scratch, what would that look like? Our vision is grounded in the Internet of Things. We imagine ways that appliances and objects in the kitchen can know information and how that can help the inhabitant. The kitchen could know information about the outside world, such as the weather of the day or traffic reports, and could communicate that information to the inhabitant as well as help them adapt. The kitchen should also be aware of what is in it and what comes and goes, much like how a vending machine keeps track of what’s inside it. Interactions with vending machines are much too stiff to model our home fridges after, but you can’t help be envious of how much the vending machine knows about its contents- what’s in it, how much of each thing, and additional information about each item, such as cost. The entire kitchen could work like that with knowledge about the objects in it and how they are being used.

We developed three projects that are consistent with this vision of a smart kitchen: Weather Blender, TreadLight Timer, and BenTUI Box.

Weather Blender

Screen Shot 2014-12-05 at 3.08.37 PMWeather Blender, as it’s name suggests, is a blender that tells the weather. Based on the weather report for the day, Weather Blender produces a smoothie that reflects the forecast. Weather Blender consists of a blender and a container with four compartments that hold different types of fruit. In our configuration, we use strawberries, mango, banana, and blueberries. When the user wants a smoothie, they press a button on the Kinoma, which gets the weather from the web, generates a recipe, and uses motors to control flaps in each container, allowing the correct proportion of each type of fruit into the blender. For example, if the weather is rainy, a blue smoothie is produced. For sunny weather, we chose to use orange. Clouds are banana, and warning weather is strawberry. For example, on a day that is hot and sunny, the smoothie will be mostly orange, with a bit of red.

Weather Blender is a cool way to explore the possibilities of smart appliances in the kitchen. They can be useful from an information display standpoint- they can use ambient means to communicate to the average human information about the environment and the world beyond. Rather than having to read a weather report, wouldn’t it be much easier for the user to just know the weather based on the smoothie you are drinking anyway. Smart appliances can also help people adapt based on the state of the world outside. For example, perhaps the Weather Blender sneaks some Vitamin D into the smoothie on a rainy day since it knows the human will be lacking sun. See our concept video here.

BenTUI Box

Screen Shot 2014-12-05 at 3.05.58 PM

BenTUI Box is about inspiring kids to eat healthily by giving them an interactive lunchbox. When they eat all the food out of a given compartment, that compartment lights up. It gives children an incentive to eat all their food rather than leaving it in their lunchbox and bringing it back home.

The BenTUI Box demonstrates the Internet of Things because the system gives the lunch box knowledge of what’s inside of it and the lunchbox reacts differently based on how its contents change. The system allows people to interact with a lunchbox in novel ways and demonstrates how a technological intervention can encourage kids to eat healthily. It is a step towards our vision where the entire kitchen knows what comes and goes and can help keep the inhabitant monitor a healthy lifestyle. See our concept video here and a video of our implementation here.

TreadLight Timer

Screen Shot 2014-12-05 at 3.03.31 PM The TreadLight Timer is a system that aims to provide more ambient and easily accessible information to someone cooking in a kitchen. The timer leverages the fact that there are really only 3 different states of the timer the cook is interested in: The food is no where near done, the food is almost done, and the food is done. The system uses a string of colored lights around the cooking apparatus to communicate the state of the timer ambiently, reducing the need for the cook to walk around the kitchen to locate a centralized timer and spend time reading and interpreting the numbers on the tiny display.

The TreadLight Timer illustrates the use of ambient information to reduce the number of things a user has to think about during a cognitively demanding task. It also centralizes the information closer to where the task is taking place, using previously unused space in the kitchen as a canvas for information. This presentation of information allows a clearer mapping between processes and tasks if the user has multiple things going on. For example, when cooking multiple dishes, the user can have a TreadLight Timer on for each burner on the stove. In our vision of the smart kitchen of the future, the stove would have such a timer built into each of the burners as well as the oven and other appliances that a kitchen-user might want to time.

In conclusion, these projects explore ways in which kitchens can be smarter in terms of the information they have access to, ways they act on that information, and how they communicate to the inhabitant. We are excited to imagine further possibilities for a smart kitchen.


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