Recently we have been working on two smaller projects, just for fun, that I am able to talk about; a smart toaster and a forecasting umbrella, so let’s start with the umbrella. The idea for the forecasting umbrella was that LEDs within the handle would be used to visually communicate if it is about to rain or snow to their owners. As a result, users would remember to pick up and take their umbrella out with them, yet had this been done before? After much research and deliberation, we felt that the concept was too close to Ambient’s umbrella, priced at £140. Naturally, ClustaLabs was thinking of producing such a product for the likes of Topshop, with a RRP of around £25-30, a more cost-effective and realistic pricing range for consumers. We decided that an Arduino BT (Bluetooth) board was one of two ways in tackling the challenging issue of getting the umbrella to download and display local weather information from the internet, quickly and efficiently.
Another long-term, yet more flexible option was to independently design a board, which included either an ATMega microcontroller or PIC microcontroller that would be programmed using C Language, along with the addition of a Bluetooth module & power supply. Ambient’s current solution is to use pulsating LEDs that indicate the likelihood of rain within the next 12 hours, but it does not go as far as predicting exactly when the event will occur or provide a sufficient enough warning, quickly changing from one setting to the next. Its limited setting solely provide one piece of information; to rain or not to rain, yet what if it snow or hails? Don’t all of these weather conditions warrant a setting? Hence, forewarning the user about the weather conditions that day, along with helping them to decide on what to wear would be a much more desirable solution for the consumer.
A similar conclusion was considered when analysing Robin Southgate’s smart toaster. There have been numerous renditions of this innovative concept over the last ten years, but no one has been able to produce a mainstream product that taps into the online weather system since. Surprisingly, we also came up with endless other possibilities, including developing a registered site where brands could pay to be entered into a lottery to feature on UK’s toast the following day. Just imagine waking up, making toast and seeing the Marmite or Clover logo burnt onto it; what topping would you choose then, Bovril? I doubt it. Hence how could we achieve this?
Our first task was to analyse how the connection between the toaster and advertising website would work. Secondly, how could the toaster randomly print any symbol onto the bread, without the use of stencils? As we discussed previously within the forecasting umbrella project, wireless connection could only be provided from the internet by either creating our own board or by using an Ardunio BT (Bluetooth) board. To print any symbol or writing, laser etching seemed the most plausible solution, as aluminium stencils would not suffice in providing the flexibility that was desired. Both of these concepts have been fully developed into in-house prototypes at ClustaLabs, so if you are interested in finding out more, then please contact me at: Mandana.Ardeshir@clustalabs.com