Final Project, Kitchen
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The goal of this project is to design a product that will make the kitchen space more usable, encourage new types of behaviors, or simply to create a delightful user experience in the kitchen.
A couple questions we are looking to solve are:
We observed the Steam Cafe.
The cashier was restocking the drinks ; she would always turn the drinks so that the brand would be facing outward. Everytime a customer bought food items, the cashier would have to rip off the receipt from the cash register and add it to a large pile of receipts. Two customers bought coffee, and both had their hands full with books and other things.
I observed Baker Dining, which falls on what we consider to be an extreme end of the need spectrum, as it is a large-scale professional cooking operation. Some things I observed:
I observed the kitchen on 5west, which is a dorm kitchen. East Campus residents usually do not have a meal plan, so the kitchens are used often.
I observed that the kitchen has a similar layout to the Steam cafe. There is a center table with kitchen appliances and cabinets surrounding it. Pans are stored by hanging them from the ceiling, which I think is very convenient. Plates are stored in the cabinets by piling large plates at the bottom and smaller plates on the top. This makes getting a large plate difficult because you have to remove all the smaller ones first. The sinks were piled with dirty dishware. We use a large rack to hold spices, oils, sugars, and other miscallaneous dried goods ; there is no organization system. A common problem is when residents put food in the refrigerator and forget about it ; mold grows and causes other foods to spoil faster.
Idea #1: There are amazing recipes you can make simply by placing ingredients into a mug and microwaving it. This product is a mug that links with an application on your phone. You select the recipe you want and the app will upload it to the mug. The scale and progress bar will let you know when to stop adding a certain ingredient. You microwave the mug and simply eat out of it. It is also portable! The target audience would be college students, singles, and people who want to cook tasteful meals, but don't want to bother with pots/pans/stoves, etc.
Idea #2: A water boiler that syncs with your iPhone's morning alarms, so you can drink tea easily in the morning.
Idea #3: A post-it nope type pad you place on the refrigerator door. You rip one off and place it on groceries when you buy them. It will slowly change color based on how many days the item has been in the fridge.
1. Integrated central command center (touchscreen/voice activated) to display morning updates, host other apps and control appliances, and show recipe steps like in a phone's navigation app.
2. General voice control hub for kitchen appliances. For when you're handling raw meat or sticky substances.
3. Fold-down cooling rack. Similar concept to IKEA's fold down clothes drying rack. Hangs folded on wall, when needed folds down to create cooling shelves for pans of food to cool. Saves counter space.
I observed the Zeta Psi kitchen on a typical Tuesday evening, from 6:30-7:15 PM. During this time, approximately 15 people came and went to use the kitchen for its various purposes. Most cooked a meal, and most cleaned their dishes, but I noticed several who did only one of those activities. One notable aspect was the fact that the majority of the users, 11 of the 15, cooked a pre-made meal, either re-heating a precious meal or using a box or bag of frozen food. Some were more extensive than others, ramen noodles verses orange chicken and rice, but all were simple to make. Only 4 made meals completely from scratch, 2 couples, where in both of them, one member had extensive cooking experience previously. I personally use the kitchen every week during the semester, when the brothers make our own weekly meals for the fraternity, and the cooking that happens then is much more involved than what I see during IAP. I assume the IAP habits are more indicative of a typical college kitchen. Cleanliness is not neglected, but it is certainly noticeable that not every user cleaned after their cooking, and a look in the fridge indicates that many have purchased food long ago and forgotten about or neglected to remove it. The kitchen is layed out in a typical manner, with a central island, surrounding counters, and pans hanging up. One inefficiency is that the four fridge doors are a long a narrow path that also faces a counter with appliances, and has cleaning supplies at the end, so all of those things are difficult to access.
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that each year roughly 1 in 6 Americans (or 48 million people) gets sick, 128,000 are hospitalized, and 3,000 die of foodborne diseases. Many of these illnesses are a result of eating foods that have spent too much time in the refrigerator and are no longer safe for consumption. Furthermore, it is estimated that Americans waste 133 billion pounds of food each year. This food waste is not only detrimental to the individuals consumers who end up spending more money on food than is necessary, but also the environment.
We believe that in order to promote safety in the kitchen, help families save money, and stop the unnecessary waste of food, it would be useful to keep track of when food items are about to go bad, or have already expired. Thus, we are proposing a system that is capable of keeping track how long food has been in the refrigerator and informing the user when the food is nearing its expiration date or is no longer safe for consumption.
The questions that our prototype will address is:
We plan to implement it using a system of LED's which are programmed to turn on after a certain amount of time. A yellow LED will light when food is two days from expiration, and red will mark that the food has reached its expiration. The device will either be fastened via an elastic band or an alligator clip.
The materials we might need are:
The questions that our prototype will address is:
We plan to implement it by creating several different color tags that all mark a different pre-set amount of time. The LED's will only turn on when the fridge is open.
The materials we might need are:
Our looks-like/feels-like prototype will involve a model of the casing that we intend to use for the final product. This model will be made from acrylic and be super-sized to accommodate an Arduino Mini. The acrylic will be constructed slightly differently from the finished product because we don't have thick enough acrylic to create a perfectly scale model of the small tag. It will take the form of an acrylic box with a colored label on one end.
For the set up, we used post-it notes of different colors to represent tags for marking food products that expire in 5 days, 2 weeks, and 1 month. We used a cabinet as the "fridge". We cut out food products that are commonly found in refrigerators (meat packaging, milk carton, bananas) out of blue foam and placed them in the fridge with various tags placed on them.
We told the tester that he had just bought a carton of milk and wanted to place it in the fridge. The tester (as shown in the video), removed a tag off the fridge, wrapped it over the milk carton, and placed it in the fridge.
We told another test that she wanted to get the carton of milk from the fridge. When she opened the door, one of the tags had a light shining from behind it (from an iPhone). We asked her what she thought the light meant and she said she thought that the light meant the food was about to expire or had already expired. She removed both the carton of milk and the expired item from the fridge.
The experience testers brought up several helpful points in their feedback. The first tester was initially uncertain about how to use the tag. Part of the problem stemmed from us using tape to simulate fridge magnets, which confused the tester about whether he should use the tape or the rubber band to attach the tag to the product. The second tester knew that the light shining behind the tag indicated something about the food, but she did not know if it had already expired or was about to expire. All of the testers said that they would like to know that their food was nearing its expiration date in addition to knowing when it had expired.
Our works-like prototype involved the circuit and code we will be using to create the timed LED display for the tags. We have a single RGB LED connected to our Arduino. The code has a value called shelfLife that sets the time it will take for the tag to "expire". In this case, shelfLife is defined as 5 days. The delay at the base of the loop is the time cycle at which the time constant is increased(i.e., time += 1 each day/minute/second). In the final product, the time constant would be set to equal one day.
2 time cycles from expiration, the LED turns on and shines yellow, a warning signal. Then when shelfLife equals the number of time cycles passed, the LED turns red, signaling the item is expired.
Our works-like prototype presented several new challenges to us. We are now aware that we will need a method of resetting the tag, which we will implement in the form of a switch. The switch must be pressed twice, once to turn the LED and timer off and again to start the timer fresh. Also, we will be adding a photocell to sense the light of the fridge so that the LED only turns on when the fridge is open, saving power. Another realization we came to is that the code that would be used for this product, causing it to expire in 5 or even 30 days, is not practical for testing and presentation in this class. Therefore when we ultimately create our tags, they will have much more abbreviated expiration times such as 5-15 minutes. This will allow us to actually present the product to the class.
Our looks-like prototype sought to recreate the experience of using a fridge tag. The specific questions that we sought to answer are: Is the system initiative? Can a user determine how to fasten the tag to the product? Can they determine what the lights indicate? Is the system aesthetically pleasing? The materials that we used are laser cut acrylic to form a case, a red LED with a resistor to indicate expiration, a 3 volt battery to power it, a rubber band, tape to fasten it together temporarily, and a non-functioning button. The system is designed to be small and simple. I presented the system to a user, explaining only the purpose of marking food expiration. He immediately determined how to use the rubber band to fasten the device to different types of food. I presented him with a small bottle of chocolate syrup, a large jar of sauce, and a very large box. He used the rubber band for the first two, and simply put the third inside the box, saying that he would look inside to check the expiration status. I then turned he LED on manually and asked the user to open the fridge to retrieve an item. He recognised that the red LED indicated expiration, so he promptly removed the item and transferred it to the dumpster. He presented me with several useful pieces of input. He was happy with the rubber band system, saying that it was the most versatile that he could think of. He did, however, wish that he could manually set a time for the expiration, rather than relying on pre-assigned times. He suggested incorporating a simple dial to twist to change time. Overall the answer to most of the questions posed is "yes," but there are certainly improvements that we intent to make.
We received several pieces of helpful feedback during the Iteration 2 design review.
We presented our final iteration on Friday, January 30th in the Product Design Lab at MIT. Our final iteration consisted of one tag (specifically marked as a 2 week tag) along with a SolidWorks design of a possible inductive charging station. We made our final iteration completely wireless by using two 3V coincell batteries inside, however this made the tag much thicker than originally, so we needed 3 layers of acrylic instead of our estimated 1 layer. For our presentation, we set the expiration timer to 20 seconds, where the tag warns the user that the food is going bad after 12 seconds (via a blue LED), then notifies the user of its expiration after 8 more seconds (via a red LED). The final iteration allows the user to switch the method of holding the tag to the food, either to change a broken rubber band, use a different color or style, or use another method all together. Users of our previous iterations voiced concerns about the band breaking, which led us to our design here. Our iteration also included a possible chrging station, which consisted of a sheet with slots to insert tags for charging. The actual charging would mimic a macintosh laptop charger, where the tag is held into the charger magnetically for the duration of the charge, then can be stored in the slot until they are ready to be used. We received feedback about other storage ideas, including multiple user desires for a compact and simple-to-use charger that takes up little space, which led us to our design. We are very happy with the way that our iteration turned out, and received a good deal of positive feedback about it. If we were to continue development, we would attempt to make the tag thinner, because many users explained that a small and compact tag is easier to use. We would also experiment with alternative shapes and form-factor beyond simply changing the method of attaching the tag. We also included a possible mock-up of another tag shape design, an elliptical tag. This was an extremely enjoyable project to work on, and we all gained a good deal of insight through collaborating on it.