Reimagine a future smart kitchen and internet of things.

Cool&Cook Smart Kitchen

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Project background

2014 Undergrad thesis project. I worked with Jun Hu, Yawen Tan, Nan Song on envision a smart kitchen. The project won Gold Medal for graduation project, Ruide Industrial design award for kitchen design, and Best concept design of International Display Space Competition.

Where everything starts

The kitchen is a key component of a traditional Chinese family. In the past, the traditional Chinese kitchen usually looks disordered, dirty, and smoky because of the way how Chinese people cook. However, the complicated cooking process and diverse dishes gave the kitchen design a lot of challenges.
As living standard increases, a lot of people who born after 1990 started to learn how to cook. However, learning is not enough for them; they want to eat healthier. These people tend to be more tech-savvy and not familiar with traditional cooking methods, which inspired us to think about how we can reshape the kitchen space and better assist this demographic in getting familiar with cooking and eat healthier.

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Research findings

We sent out a survey to 150 participants born around 1990 and received 104 pieces of feedbacks in the end. From the study, we collected some general information:

 

  • 56% of participants believed that the kitchen is the most important part of their house. 

  • 69% of kitchens occupy 10%-20% of the space in the house. 

  • 85% of the kitchen space is enclosed.

  • 64% of participants have dinner in the kitchen.

  • 95% of participants didn't know how to cook because of forgetting the cooking process or ingredients, and they didn't know how to eat healthier.

We also did a series of interviews with 10 participants around kitchen impressions, problems, expectations and observed how they cook and utilize the kitchen space. We found out:

  • Most participants didn't know how to cook certain ingredients, but they know what dish they want to eat. 

  • Most participants didn't know how to store food and put everything in the fridge, such as cans and cereal.

  • Most people didn't know the cooking process and the quantity of each ingredient they need to use. They usually started to look into the recipes to find out the process and ingredients to use. Often, it was too late to buy the necessary ingredients. 

  • Most participants didn't know how to eat healthier and combine different types of ingredients or dishes for a healthier diet; they tend to eat the food they knew how to cook or copy their parent's eating habits.

  • Most participants didn't check the expiration date of their food before buying or cooking. 

Directions

From the above research, we targeted a few problems to solve for this project. 

  • Some people (age 16-26) don't like to cook because of the messy, foggy, enclosed kitchen environment.

  • Some people (age 16-26) don't know how to cook and use kitchen tools and appliances. 

  • Some people (age 16-26) don't really understand the relationship between eat and body health. 

  • Some people (age 16-26) don't know how to pair dishes and eat healthier.

Ideations

What if we design a clean and open kitchen environment so that people enjoy staying in the kitchen and still keep its traditional usage. What if we create a management system that can help people streamline the cooking process by step-by-step guidance, bridge the gap between eating and healthy, educate people about reshaping traditional eating habits. What if all appliances can talk to each other and are all oriented by the management system so that people don't need to learn and remember how and when to use different appliances. In order to better articulate the ideas, we started with a series of explorations and ideations.

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We explored and brainstormed different kitchen space designs, kitchen partition, and assistant tools that could help guide people with the cooking process and dietary recommendations based on personal preference and medical history.
We finally landed on the concept of Cool&Cook Smart kitchen. It included an open kitchen space, a series of appliances, and a central management system.

Cool&Cook Smart kitchen concept

The primary kitchen is island-style with prepare, manage, cook, and eat parts all together on the island and all appliances on the other side. This design streamlines the cooking process and avoids duplicating steps. All types of equipment are hidden underneath the table to prevent kitchen smell and keep kitchen space clean. We also create this shared kitchen space to make the kitchen multi-usage such as parties, share house situations.

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The central management system locates in the center of the kitchen with an embedded screen. When people prepare the food, with the analytic cutting board, the system will recognize the ingredients and came up with dish combinations.

The central management system connects with each family member's medical record and preferences to give dietary recommendations.

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Home page of the central management system. 

The cutting board will identify the food and the system will pull the ingredient details out. 

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Based on today's ingredients, the system will give people food recommendations. 

Once the dishes were selected. The receipt will show up with step-by-step guidance. 

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Each family member will have their own profile connecting with their health records to keep track of their diet and body health. 

Visualization of family member intake food categories including meat, vegetable, carbs, fat, etc. 

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Concept video

Make it real

We had this fresh concept, and we learned so much through flipping the design and critique. Since we can't 100% achieve the idea, we still want to share the learning and ideas with our audiences through the grad show. We made a 1:1 real kitchen cabinet, a few demo appliances, and a demo management system using Arduino and Processing. It took nearly four months to build the kitchen and figured out the stories we tried to tell.

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Set up the exhibition environment

In order to tell a better story to the audience, we need to figure out what is needed and how people interact with our kitchen. We couldn't entirely rely on the concept video because we knew nobody would stop and watch till the end. We wanted the audiences to get the modular design and internet of things concepts at first glance and come into space and interact with the kitchen.

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All exhibition pieces need to be put together within 48 hours in a designated area. It is quite a challenge for everyone on the team. Thanks to the contractor who helped us setting up the wood frame so that we can use the electricity freely and all the team members who worked so hard to bring the kitchen in and set up all the programs. Space turns out beautifully. 

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Exhibition showcase

During the grad exhibition, we practiced a performance to tell the story and showcase the concept. Below is the video for storytelling.