Monday, September 26, 2005

Observation Proposal

Observation Proposal

We would like to propose an interactive table. This table would sense the user’s presence and respond to it by changing its aura. Our goal is to modify the behavior of the typical Starbucks customer, by encouraging him or her to share his or her table, and interact with other customers, rather than burying their heads in laptops or textbooks. The reward for doing so will be the discovery of the various aura states that the table can achieve. And of course an added benefit will be more social interaction.

The system is based on the present 36” diameter café table used throughout Starbucks, a table designed to seat four. We would replace these existing tables with one of our own design, allowing the technology to be embedded seamlessly within.

The table would be manufactured in a durable translucent plastic, such as polypropylene. Its aura would be controlled by a cup of coffee and a system made up of simple electronics, all residing on the underside of the table. The table would have four screenprinted designs reminiscent of coasters distributed evenly around the top. They would act to subtly encourage users to place their cups in specific places. On the underside of the table, a group of four photo-sensors would be placed to correspond to the location of the coasters. The photo-sensors would provide analog input to a microcontroller, which would interpret the signal and create digital output. The digital output would control four separate arrays of LEDs. Each array would be made of a single color: red, green, blue, and yellow. The LEDs would be spread throughout the table and when turned on, would produce the table’s gentle glow. The system would also require a power supply.

The initial point of interaction is placing the cup of coffee down on the table. If the coffee is placed on the coaster, light will be prevented from reaching the photo-sensor, and will change the signal it is sending to the microcontroller. The microcontroller program will need to look not just for change in each input but also compare the input with a series of if then/else statements, to determine where the triggered sensor is. There are six possible array states depending on the number of sensors activated, and their proximity to one another. The first state is the available table, where there are no changes in the input signal, and the blue LEDs are turned on. In the second state, one input is triggered and the red LEDs are turned on and added to the blue ones. In the third state, two inputs are triggered, and if they are neighboring sensors, just the red LEDs will remain on; if the sensors are not neighboring, then the red, blue and yellow LEDs are turned on. When three sensors are triggered, the aura switches to a fourth state, turning on just the red and yellow LEDs. The final state is the one in which all the photo-sensors are triggered, and the microcontroller turns on all four LED arrays.

The program that runs the microcontroller will also need to control the timing used when switching between states. It would become rather annoying to sit at a table that was blinking like a disco floor every time you took a sip of coffee. A slow fade would be nice.

Sunday, September 25, 2005


general atmasphere

Happy customers

Seating area

Counter area

Thursday, September 22, 2005



Week one observations

Starbucks is a corporate conglomerate coffee company with retail locations throughout the world. Using a formulaic interior design, Starbuck cafes have a similar look and feel from Los Angeles to Paris. In general, Starbucks outposts are a light mix of post industrial /high tech with a few “funky” café elements. The promise of the formula is that you will always feel at home in any location, never challenged—be it by a different ordering system or the ambient background music.

The local branch at Astor Place is where we made our observations. It is a large space divided into two levels, with high ceilings, and concrete floors. The main space (at street level) contains the display cases and counter. The floor has a central access path leading from the entrance directly to the counter. On both sides are clusters of tables, subdivided by smaller and less direct paths to side entrances. On the upper level, two steps up, are smaller spaces, also filled with small tables.

Typical customer behavior is: they enter the cafe, place their orders, then after a short wait, pick up their coffees. Some head for the exit at this point, taking their orders “to go.” Others pick up their drinks, spin around and head for the cream and suger station before heading out. A percentage of customers pick up their drinks, find seats and stay inside Starbucks. These are the customers we will be focusing on.

There seem to be two principal categories of patrons who stay to enjoy their coffees: the Laptoppers and the Studiers.

In general, the Laptoppers prefer the smaller of the table styles. They sit alone, with their laptops perched in front of them. Many place their cell phones on the table, with no coffee in sight. They seem to be rather entrenched, isolated and focused on the compuer screens, oblivious to their surroundings. The laptoppers seem to prize the upper level— we have not yet determined if this choice is based on the lack of disruptive foot traffic, or the availability of AC power.

The second group are the Studiers. Not surprising given the location’s proximity to NYU. This group also favors the smaller tables, but are not as solitary as the Laptoppers. It’s not unusual to see groups of two or three at one table. Their concentration is not nearly as intense as that of the Laptoppers; they often pause to take notes, chat with their tablemates, or check out the action in the café.

An even narrower customer category consists of people in conversation, or small mixed groups, who seem to move seamlessly between working or studying to conversing with their tablemates.

I asked customers about their experiences at Starbucks, and here are some of their reactions:

"I like that there's usually a spot open, and I can park my laptop and get a lot done."

"I like that I can hang out here and leave without smelling like a coffee roaster. I used to work in a cafe, and I never felt like I could get the coffee smell out of my hair.”

“I never feel bad about sitting in the same spot for hours. I get a cup of coffee, plug in and nobody bugs me." (Oops, was that a hint?)

"I kind of hate the way the area with the sugar and cream is always a mess. The honey is the worst!"

"The ordering part is easy, but the counter where you wait for your drink is always f’d up and crowded."

"It's a good place to get studying done. There's noise and stuff, the music and people talking, but it's never so bad that I can't do my thing."
Me: “And do you like Dylan?”
Customer: “Who?”

"Look at these shelves. Does anyone really buy gifts and stuff here? They should get rid of them and add more tables."
(Obviously, this guy’s not going to Stern.)

Saturday, September 17, 2005

Lab 1

OK, here goes.

To start, I have done some basic electronics in the past, but never in a controlled environment, or with a trained professional's supervision. I have always wired stuff together and hoped for the best. It's nice to finally get a handle on the various components that I had previously just ignored, or worse, just tossed. Resistors, capacitors, regulators... so much to learn.

To start the lab, I had to prep my power supply connector, soldering on two lead wires. This step seemed to give a lot of trouble to some of my fellow students. Having done some welding as well as jewelry fabrication, it was easy for me.

The first step was to build a simple circuit with a 7805 regulator, a 220 ohm resister, an LED and a switch. The challenge was to remember what the components looked like, and and how to read their ratings. Not having a switch, I used two pieces of wire (you can see them on the right side of the photo).

The second step was to build a series of LEDs. I was able to get two to work... kind of. Adding a third killed the whole thing, though. The odd thing is, with two, my LEDs blinked. Swapping out a yellow LED for a red one caused the blinking rate to change, but didn't stop the LEDs from blinking. Todd took a look, but couldn't find any fault in my wiring set up. The only variable in the system was my power supply. Exchanging it for a new one did the trick. I have a feeling that the power supply I brought in is just barely putting out 5v.

The remaining steps were rather uneventful: no blinking LEDs, nothing caught fire, no one had to kick me clear when it arc'ed, but I still had fun. I built a circuit that had three LED's in parallel, and one with a variable resistor photo cell. Covering the photo cell didn't have a huge impact on the brightness of the LED; however, placing a light source on it caused the brightness to go way up. The photo below shows the parallel and variable circuits.