Product Design (sort of) c. 2013

RoastedPi was my project while on exchange to The Bauhaus and its subtitle could easily be A Trial by Fire. I see it as a successful project insofar as I learned immensely... though at first blush it may look like a string of failures.

Despite being abroad to study graphic design, I chose to pursue product design instead and jumped in with both feet. Our class was called Probier Mal which means 'try it once' —usually said when one is faced by an unknown food.

My unknown, other than German, was working with a Raspberry Pi... so I proposed to my professors that I build a coffee roaster (based on an old hot-air popcorn popper) that was controlled by a Pi. Why? So that the roaster could be remotely accessed and so that it could use a camera/microphone/temperature probe to keep track of the roasting process. In that way, a user could set their desired roast level and the computer would keep track of the temperature curve, number of cracked beans (based on noise), and colour of the roast... conceivably a fleet of 100,000 of these roasters could share their roasting results across different bean varieties and generate a coffee roasting algorithm for the ideal cuppa.

It was a lot to bite off for a two-month project, especially since I was proposing to build a working prototype rather than design an enclosure for an engineer to fill. However, my professors acquiesced and I jumped into a completely foreign world. I had never SSH'd before, let alone worked with Python... and command-line control of a computer was not my strong suit. I had created a steep learning curve for myself.

To further complicate things, as my project outline was coming together... I found that my room had a massive bed bug infestation (!) which meant two weeks of rotating through the city on different couches while looking for a new place. I include this detail only to frame my crazed mindset for approaching this project. It was the best of times, it was the wurst of times.

Luckily, I found a fantastic place to live—better than my student residence—and resumed full work on my project. It was then when my professors grew concerned about the lack of aesthetic emphasis and suggested I at least create a model to show how my final product could look. "This is design, not engineering!" was their refrain. I took their advice... sort of... and decided to jump into 3D printing as a solution.

 

You might sense a theme when I say... I had never worked with a 3D printer before and subsequently spent the next 72 hours scratching my head over unsuccessful prints.  I followed the directions, why were they all wonky? And it was at this point that my laptop died and refused any form of CPR.

However, in the end... I successfully created a machine that could be:

  • Be remotely accessed from outside of its local network on any computer or mobile device
  • Request authentication
  • Present a mobile-responsive webpage with a live (24fps!) camera view of the beans inside the popper
  • Manually control on/off of the roaster
  • Turn lights off/on to light beans
  • A dummy slider for setting desired roast levels
  • Display a temperature up to 140°C (the temperature probe couldn't read past that, so I tried to swap it out for a thermocouple)

I fell short of:

  • Image processing to determine bean colour and shut-off point
  • Successful thermocouple integration
  • Any sort of sensor-logging for the next roast

It was a thrilling experience, if only because I was let loose to learn and play with technology. I considered ignoring it as a portfolio piece, but it was such a rich experience during which I learned and grew so much... I'd be remiss to not include it.