The internet of things will be without coffee

Everything has to be WiFi nowadays

I generally like products that are connected to the internet and to remotely control appliances around the house, for example by using my mobile phone as the remote. For example controlling the heating, lighting or music around the house. Today, for most of these concepts ready made solutions are commercially available and are often plug-and-play. I'm not the only one who likes to connect stuff to the network or even the internet (bye bye, privacy!): in a Dutch article, it is claimed that about 54% of the dutch people would like to control "Every appliance" by making use of an application on their smart phone. Most of these connected devices do not need to have a high speed internet connection, but they need to be connected to the network in some way. Therefore most of these products easily connect to the network by using a wireless WiFi connection. To make sure the connected products stand out from the rest and are bought by early adopters, manufacturers are advertising with "Controllable using a App" or adding "WiFi" to the specs (Even a new Opel car is currently advertised on Dutch television with the announcement "With 4G WiFi", not only does the combination 4G and WiFi not make sense, they don't even take the time to elaborate what you can actually do with the WiFi feature on the car). Unfortunately, in most cases, the added connectivity isn't making the product more enjoyable. Often, it does not even solve only one of the problems traditional non-connected products had. Take for example the coffee machine.

Project idea

A while ago, I wanted to create something new and simple with a small computing module like the Raspberry Pi or the Arduino Uno (combined with an ethernet shield). So, while looking around the house, I found that interfacing with a fully automatic coffee machine could be a good idea.

At least, it seemed like a good idea, until I thought it more through. Let's assume that we can interface with the controller of the coffee machine and read out the state of the machine as well as initiating all the actions that can normally be started by pressing the buttons on the physical interface of the coffee machine. In most cases, this would mean that we at least can get feedback about the following situations:

  • The machine is out of water.
  • The machine is out of beans
  • The bin for the coffee grounds is full
  • The machine has to be decalcified

And that we can at least initiate the following processes:

  • Make one or two cups of coffee!
  • Output hot water for tea or something
  • Output steam for warming up other kind of drinks
  • Alter the amount of water used for one cup of coffee
  • Alter the coffee strength settings
  • Turn on the machine
  • Turn off the machine

Let's move forward

Suppose we have interfaced the coffee machine in a stable manner and I have an app for controlling my coffee machine and I can get feedback from my machine by means of notifications on my smart phone. Like this guy. Now I can start making a cup of coffee from outside my kitchen where the coffee maker lives! If I open some ports on my router, I am even able to start making a cup of coffee everywhere around the world!

Well, whoopty doo.

After a couple of cups of coffee, or even before the first cup of coffee, a few problems will arise:

  • A cup has to be placed on the tray of the coffee machine. This could be automated using a lot of mechanic ingenuity, but it will take a lot of effort.
  • The water in the reservoir can run out, but we can extend our project by adding a automatic refill thing which is connected to the water line
  • The beans will run out. But this can be sorted by adding an enormous funnel and add a years stock of coffee beans.
  • The bin for the Coffee grounds need to be emptied once in a while: we can also extend the time between this action by enlarging the bin (for example by adding a larger container underneath the counter top)
  • The leakage reservoirs have to be emptied once every while, but we can also get creative here and connect this reservoir directly to the sewerage.
  • The coffee has to be consumed, so someone has to pick it up in the kitchen. Inevitably.

So in the end, we can remotely make a cup of coffee, but we cannot consume the coffee remotely. The coffee also has to be consumed in a short period of time after making it because it will cool. Effectively, if all the possible problems listed above are dealt with, except the problem of remotely consuming the coffee, a network attached coffee machine can only add the luxury of starting the process of making the coffee before we head off to the kitchen. You would think that this would save us some time because we don't have to wait for the coffee machine to make the coffee, which will approximately take around a minute or so. But, getting your phone out of your pocket, finding the app in the app menu, clicking the button for creating one or two cups of coffee and waiting until the command is send through the network also takes time. In the end, I don't think it will be used that much. Especially since using the app requires more mental planning than walking into the kitchen and just pushing a button on the coffee machine.

Feedback notifications

Also receiving the state of the machine on your phone will help you very little. The best moment to act on feedback messages and perform the required refills or maintenance is when you are next to the coffee machine and want to make a cup of coffee or afterwards. In these situations, you can simply check the feedback leds on the machine or view the message on the display of the machine. No need for notifications on your phone at all.

Passive use of the internet connected coffee machine

Now everybody is adding as much gamification to their products, we could also send information to the internet when the coffee machine is used. For example keeping track of how many cups of coffee you drank or how many cups of thee. This could be a nice statistic to share with the data hungry world. But this will pose another problem: you are probably not the only one who uses the coffee machine. Other members of your household use the same machine and you probably have guests who like coffee too. So, to share statistics about your coffee intake, we need to add functionality to add user profiles to the coffee machine. Before starting making coffee, you should select your profile. That's fun the first couple of times, but I think this will be annoying very soon.

Commercial solutions

After contemplating about the rather significant drawbacks, you would think that there are no WiFi coffee makers on the market, because it does not work. But there are! For example the Smarter Coffee machine. Techmoan reviewed one in a youtube video Well, he is not pleased with the product. Another one is the Mr. Coffee® Smart Optimal Brew™ 10-Cup Programmable Coffee Maker with Wemo®. WHY?

Dynamic Coffee Alarms

Yes, when you connect the coffee machine to the internet and you have a smart phone app which can control your coffee machine, you are able to place a cup under the machine in the evening before you go to bed and the app could automatically start making coffee when your wake up alarm sounds in the morning. The coffee will be ready when you walk to the kitchen directly. But if your morning routine has a different order, this will not work and your coffee will be cold. Also, how many seconds did you actually save using this coffee alarm? And, how often will you forget to place the cup under the machine in the evening?

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