[01] final projections
  • 1. first ideas
  • 2. project updates


When we use a hammer to drive a nail, we attend to both nail and hammer, but in a different way... The difference may be stated by saying that the latter (hammer) are not, like the nail, objects of our attention, but instruments of it. They are not watched in themselves; we watch something else while keeping intensely aware of them. I have a subsidiary awareness of the feeling in my palm of my hand which is merged into my focal awareness of my driving the nail.
Polanyi, M. The Tacit Dimension. First published Doubleday & Co, 1966. Reprinted Peter Smith, Gloucester, Mass, 1983

What we know how to do cannot always be put into words. It is as if our muscles develop an intimate relationship with our pencils, knives, hammers, needles, guitar strings or keyboards and perform a perfectly choreographed repertoire of moves every time these come at hand.

I have very often thought that if our tools could speak they would have a lot of fascinating stories to narrate, about a world that exists beyond language but is yet so familiar.

For my final project I want to make tool(kit)s which can visualize this tacit knowledge: communicate to us what we are doing at the moment that we are doing it.

Imagine a knife and a cutting surface which traces the blade's trajectory, frantically recites the number of cuts (particuarly tempting for proficient chefs chopping vegetables) or even reacts to one's movements by creating diversions.

Or imagine a pencil which keeps track of the kilometers (this is probably the range) traversed by its graphite tip and maps this to an exotic location in the globe that you could have reached had you walked that same distance (one of my high school final exams fantasies).


<idea 01> a knife and a cutting board interactive kit


<idea 02> a pencil that maps the distance "written" onto the globe

Through verbalizing and/or visualizing this tacit knowledge our tools can transcend the realm of utlitarian instruments and becoming devices for reflection in/for/about our action. Apart from stirring up our daily routines, they can make us more aware of our behaviors, allow us to grasp the intangible notion of skill and think, not only about our thinking, but also about our doing.


How to make tools that show us how we use them
The general concept of my final project is tools for reflection on action; tools which collect and visualize use data in real time, bringing forth the tacit, the automated or the seemingly mundane. This is along the lines of a broader research question of how we can use sensing and actuating to create environments that are not only "intelligent" but can also be reflective (ie. inform the users about their spatial habits).

For the MAS863 final project I want to focus on cooking utensils. The source of inspiration for this project was Patrick Olivier's presentation at the 7th International Conference on Intelligent Environments where I participated this past summer. The presentation was about the Ambient Kitchen project, developed by the Newcastle University Culture Lab. This project explores the use of pervasive computing in domestic settings, trying to fully integrate the sensors and actuators in the fabric of the kitchen itself. It consists of projectors, wireless sensor network, RFID readers, cameras, and floor sensors which sense the user activity and perform multiple functions, from recipe recommendation to medication reminders.

Figure 1: How the University of Newcastle Culture Lab's "Ambient Kitchen" helps make a cup of tea

What I found fascinating in this project was the embedding of mote-based sensors in kitchen appliances and utensils so as to be able to trace user activity in a non intrusive way. The Ambient Kitchen project is mainly framed as an assistive system (elderly people, patients with dementia etc).

My vision is to use its general principles to create a portable kit (kitchen utensils and a cutting board) which can sense and visualize user activity. Instead of using the sense data for different kinds of recommendations this system will create light patterns on the surface of the cutting board in correspondence to the use of the kitchen utensils, engaging the users in real time play with the formation of an interactive light field. This process will visualize the choreography of cooking movements bringing forth the complexity and grace of one of our most everyday activities. Apart from working out the intricacies of the system (wireless network, displays etc) I am very excited about the product design aspect of the project; designing and fabricating a full set of kitchen utensils, where the mote-based sensors will be embedded.

Figure 2: Final project concept sketch; systems and components

2.Prior Art:
After doing some research in this area I came across Sajid Sadi's reflectOns project realized at the Fluid Interfaces group, at the MIT Media Lab, which is in very close proximity with what I am planning on doing.
The Ambient Kitchen and the reflectOns project are the main prior art for my project. I have already contacted Patrick and Sajid asking for more information about the details of their projects. What excites me in this case is to put the pieces of the puzzle together and to design and make everything from scratch.
Other helpful sources can be the Sensor Network Research group, along with many other communities on WSN
the Fluid Interfaces group at the MIT Media Lab, the Tangible Interfaces group at the MIT Media Lab
Also, for the utensil design Alessi, Greg Lynn's kitchenware can be sources of inspiration.
Finally, as far as data visualization is concerned, Theo Watson's interactive installations are a great precedent.

3.Systems and components:
3.1. a wireless sensor network (WSN):

The sensors embedded in the custom made kitchenware will operate as a wireless sensor network; a network of autonomous sensors distributed in space monitoring physical or environmental activity. These sensors are connected to nodes (motes), through which they pass the collected data to a main location. The sensors usually consist of a radio transceiver (the antenna can be internal or external), a microcontroller, an electronic circuit for interfacing with the sensors and an energy source (battery or embedded energy garvesting). For this project I will work with a star network topology for simplicity.

3.2. a pressure sensitive surface:

I am considering combining the WSN of the kitchen utensils monitoring motion with a pressure sensing surface (the cutting board), transferring data for the more "static" parts of the cooking process(objects placed in specific spots etc). In the Ambient Kitchen project they have deployed pressure sensitive floors through
custom built pressure sensors.
These contain a circuit board encased in memory foam which is in turn sandwiched between two sheets of metallic foil. In the Ambient Kitchen, the full floor consists of an array of these sensors.

3.3. a display (LED matrix):

The kitchen board will act as a display where the collected data from the WSN and the surface will be visualized. The data visualization will also be an important part of the process which I am very excited about working on. The challenge here is to visualize this data in a "meaningful" way, expressive of the cooking process. What this expressivity would entail is yet to be defined; ideas are either the display of written messages or the generation of luminous lines/areas capturing the gestural characteristics of cutting / chopping / dicing / stirring etc.

4.Questions I will need to answer:
4.1. hardware
4.1.1. Sensor enhanced utensils
- How to make the wireless sensors;
- How to embed the wireless sensors in the kitchenware;
- How to make the kitchenware waterproof so that the sensors are not damaged when the utensils are washed;
- How to allow for the replacement of the sensors;

4.1.2. Pressure sensitive cutting board & Display
- How to make a pressure sensitive surface;
- How to make this surface also act as a display. Do I use projectors or do I embed a grid of LEDs in the surface?
- How to make the entire system portable;

4.2. software
- What is the network architecture;
- How to collect the data from the different sensors and the sensing surface?;
- How to visualize the data in a meaningful and expressive way;
- (How) Can the user intervene in the way the data is visualized?

On Wednesday morning John and Tom gave us a tutorial on how to use the laser cutter. Here is a transcript of the notes that I kept along with some tips from personal experience.

3.1. Safety first:
It is quite usual to see a small flame when the laser is cutting the material. If a small flame worries you then you can open the lid and cover the flame with a piece of acrylic. If the flame is big or the material catches on fire then you open the lid, close the air valve and call 100.

3.2. How to put the material on the laser bed:
The origin point is the top left corner. Make sure your material is the right size; in the Universal Laser Cutter at the CBA shop the bed is 32*18". You might need to use some tape to attach the material to the edges of the bed if it is not completely flat (this is for example very usual with cardboard)

3.3. How to adjust the height of the laser bed:
Use the marked metal rod to measure the height between the cutting tool and the material you have placed on the laser cutter board. Press Z and use the Up and Down arrows to bring the cutting material to the edge of the metal rod. You will know that the height is right when the pin does not let the board to go any further up.
The check button moves to smaller digit precision for height refinements with the up and down arrows. Once you have found the right height press Z again to exit.

3.4. How to send your files:
3.4.1. If you are using Inkscape:
1. Prepare your file and export it in 300dpi. Keep in mind that the white part is the one cut with precision so your offsets are "eating" off the black part.
2. Go to fab > run in terminal
3. Select the Universal laser cutter and define power and speed. Make sure that you set the pulses per inch (ppi) to be less than 500 if you are cutting cardboard. If you are cutting acrylic you can do almost 300.
4. Specify xmin and ymin. This is how far from the top left corner (origin) the machine will start cutting the file.
Hit make .uni
6. Send!

3.4.2. If you are using CorelDraw (Windows):
1. Import your file
2. Make sure all your lines are Hairline (No thickness)
3. Optional step: You might want to offset your lines for precision. Go to Effects>Contour and do an Outside offset of 0.005 (or around that) Then do Arrange and break contour group apart.
4. Go to File>Print>Properties and set Power and Speed per color
Press Set to register your changes
6. Print!

3.4.3. If you are using Rhino or AutoCAD (Windows) you can set the speed and power per layer through the print menu. Make sure you SKIP all the layers you do not want to cut and that you select the area you want to cut with a print window and that all your lines are 0 thickness or hairlines. In Rhino you can set the size of the print window and then Move it in the correct spot in the screen. You send your file by hitting print.

3.5 How to cut your files:
Find the right file! If you send multiple files you can navigate through them with the >> and << buttons.
2. Do a test run. It is recommended that you do a test run to confirm that the path is right. Just press the green button <|> while the lid is open.
3. Cut! If all looks fine close the lid and press <|> to cut.