Counter Intelligence - 2001 Prospectus and Research Agenda

The Counter Intelligence (CI) project explores technological approaches to functional, cognitive, and social support in the home, with a particular focus on the kitchen.

Nowhere in our life is the impact of the past 100 years of technology more obvious than the kitchen. Running water, electricity, gas, and appliances that use them have greatly reduced the difficulties of creating nutritious, healthy, social, and aesthetic experiences in our kitchens. And feeding our kitchens are supply chains and communication systems that transform our meals into a cultural wonder: We can eat fresh and exotic food from South America with utensils from Italy on plates from China, watching news unfold in the Middle East while we conversing with a friend in Canada. But our kitchens are far from complete and perfect. They remain dangerous and messy places and in world that is increasingly vying for our attention, we are abandoning the hearth for a meal on the run. Our goal is to reverse this trend--to make the kitchen the center of family life by providing technologies that improve functionality and engage us cognitively and socially. Specifically, we are focusing on the technologies of context sensing, material science, machine learning, and computer-supported cooperative work, with product and scenario design at the heart of our query.

From these building blocks, we are developing the framework for the
next 100 years of change and innovation in the home.

Functional support in the kitchen

What new technologies will impact and improve the home experience as much as refrigeration has? The intelligence within and between tools and appliances will create a significantly safer, impressively more versatile, easier to use and functional home. CI is creating kitchen technologies that enable smart utensils and appliances to sense, infer, and react. We are also developing enhanced communications technology that enable sharing kitchen activities--even smells--with other kitchens. The aggregation of this research is to bring human sensibilities to the use of sensors and machine intelligence in the home.


Cognitive support in the kitchen

We cook for decades and still feel uncertain about how to combine the best aspects of one recipe with another. Teaching cooking (and other household chores) by procedure does not utilize our imagination or our thinking. CI is developing "thinking" systems to lead a person through a cooking experience. These systems focus concepts and decision-making rather than procedures and reactions. In our vision of the kitchen of the future, people use common modes of communication--voice and gesture--in order to make cooking more engaging and to develop curiosity and decision-making skills. The same technology is used to notice where things are, when they are used, by who and for what. We are working towards noticing situations that are potential dangerous and opportunities for teaching a new approach or possibility.


Social support in the kitchen

The kitchen table is the hearth of the family. In every culture, food is the traditional focus for making guests feel welcome. Why then are Americans spending record time away from their homes and record money on foods that they don't eat in their home? How can we use technology to create a home atmosphere where we will learn together and eat together? CI is exploring how to bring information, education, and entertainment modalities back to the comfortable home venue of the kitchen table. CI's focus on community and human scenarios in the kitchen is resulting in a smorgasbord of new technologies to extend what can be done in the kitchen and working demonstrations to bring people back to their homes to entertain and learn in the kitchens of the future.
Project Descriptions

CI is based on the premise that media and other technologies are melding together to help us transform the home into the place where we care for ourselves and socialize together. With more than 20 active projects the Media lab CI projects endevor to explore functional, cognitive, or social impact, appliances and infrastructure that will change the way people will eat and relate in the home.



Vending Machine: Challenge

Nikos Michalakis

This project pulls together food and information offerings in public places. We wish to address two aspects of vending machine design. The first is the payment system and, thus the role of the machine in the market. The second is the interface and interaction with the customer.


Ted Selker

A camera in an oven replaces its window: This allows the cook to see the things they are cooking anywhere in the house. It allows the oven to see the size and color of the contents to adjust power and control. It can read the temperature of the oven walls and the food separately. These features make a more efficient oven which can better control the cooking of its contents while making it easier to view oven contents.


Ming Zhang, Paul Thordarsen, Joseph 'Jofish' Kaye

Robocrop combines sensors, networking and plants to create a modular desktop gardening system, in which the gardener can have as much information and control as they wish. We are developing a kit of parts to enable a deeper understanding of the variables that effect plant growth in an accessible way -- a Mindstorms for Nature.

Kitchen Hand Projects:

Ted Selker

The Chameleon Mug investigates a way of making handheld computers for the kitchen. Using LCD, bimetal strips, thermoresister and Thermochromic ink as sensors; we developed a vessel which changes color, displays safety messages and/or springs a handle to demonstrate the whether the fluid in it is hot or cold. While initial reasons for this research were to explore the safety and aesthetic issues of making a tumbler which could turn into a mug for hot drinks, our researchers have uncovered many more uses for sensors in a drinking vessel. For example, to detect the concentration of sugar or lactose in a beverage, warn of bad milk or to mix the fluid ultrasonically.

The Talking Trivet:

Ernesto Arroyo

This project include an understanding of oven cooking practices in a oven mitt by designing it to remark verbally on its temperature. The Talking Trivet uses a thermoresistor to remark on the temperature of foods and containers which are placed on it. For example, it exclaims "FIRE!" when left on a surface over 600 degrees, informs you that the food "Needs rewarming." or affirms that the food is "Hot and ready to eat!". In addition, it sets an automatic timer for cooking which is based on the temperature of the oven. Therefore, a 275 degree oven exclaims that the food should be checked in 40 minutes, while a 500 degree oven recommends that it should be tested in 10 minutes.

Cutlery that Nose:

Ernesto Arroyo

Taking The Talking Trivet to its next step, we are experimenting with knives which can warn against bacteria or stirring spoons which can sense the sweetness of cookie batter or the saltiness of a salad dressing. The cutlery takes in the information via saline, Ph, temperature and conductivity sensors. The knives and spoons can then provide commentary or advice via sound output hardware.of salad dressing to comment on them.

Floor Scale:

Jorge Martinez, Win Burleson

The Floor Scale is an initiative which introduces computing to the floor. We have worked with special flooring from Steelcase to create an inexpensive system of floor sensors (third generation) which can sense where a person is and where they have moved within a room. Current and future experiments include: triggering an appliance to teach a skill; recall a previous activity by that person (I.e. retracing steps); and encouraging people to circulate to another group in a party social floor. a party social floor. (using special flooring courtesy of Steelcase)

Chameleon Tables:

Ted Selker

These experimental tables are designed to be useful as an individual sized table or to be connected together mechanically and electronically to make a larger surface. The 2 foot hexagon shape has a heavy 3 inch thick cavity under its clear top; thus leaving possibilities to be a display case or electronic table infrastructure. The gas charged support post includes a capacitive sensor that measures height and weight of the table top and allow the tables to articulate up and down approximately 2 feet.


vJoseph Jofish Kaye
inStink explores what happens when we can manipulate smell by computer as easily as we currently manipulate sound and video. We have built prototype systems for smell production that use smell as an ambient media, to communicate presence, activity, and abstract information. We are also examining the use of aromas to aid learning, in conjunction with other media, and as a communication device.

EyeAre Tables:

Andrea Lockherd, Jorge Martinez, Winslow Burleson

There are three present scenarios for the interaction of these tables with the EyeaRe Glasses:
"The Greeting Table" -- The table works with the EyeaRe glasses to introduce a newcomer to a table.
"The Web Table" -- The EyeaRe glasses communicate with a computer in the table and displays the Web pages coworkers or friends.
"The Email Table" -- The EyeaRe glasses send email to coworkers or friends.

Capacitive Leg Tables:

Winslow Burleson

There are two present scenarios this project:
"The Drum Table" -- One can play the Capacitive Leg as a timpani when it is raised to its full height, as a tom tom when it is in the middle of its course and as a bongo when at the bottom of its travel.
"The Conversation Table" -- This version uses the Capacitive Leg to show Coffee Table Book pictures when at coffee table height, Desk Work when at medium height and Bar Games at highest level.
Cognitive Support


Wendy Ju, Camilo Guaqueta, Becky Hurwitz, Tilke Judd, Bonny Lee

Why stand by and have a kitchen of the future that cook for you when you can join in on the fun? CounterACTIVE is developing a kitchen counter which engages the user with delicious recipes, colorful pictures, fun music, instructive videos and interesting stories. By enticing people to develop their cooking skills, our interface encourages an active participation in the kitchen.

The CounterACTIVE research has two components: the interface and the underlying architecture. The interface is composed of a computer, an overhead projector, and Rehmi Post's TauFish electric field sensing array; by touching the pictures and words on the countertop, users' can step their way through recipes. We are currently exploring the design possibilites offered by this setup, which we regard as a new medium.

Another aspect of our research is the architecture of an event detection system to enable a non-command interface. Using an underlying array of sensors distributed throughout the kitchen the kitchen can infer what events are occurring in the kitchen and respond before the user formulates an explicit command.


Mike Li

The natural structure of the way our eyes glance around tells a social story. This research demonstrates how a person's visual pattern on a computer screen can identify his or her task or question. As a user glances around, Invision will group an image by using a special structured light based eye tracking system

Room With A View:

Winslow Burleson

Room with A View (RWAV) is a scenario prototype which demonstrates a social collaborative working environment. A special Kitchen table, tablet "viewboards", and projected wall work together to translate desktop computing into the familiar physical scenario of an office. A projected desktop with imagery such as that found in an old office (e.g. things hanging on the wall, things sitting on shelves, things lying on the desk) provides accessibility to items simply by reaching over to "grab" them. The messy desk metaphor is transformed into a scene projected onto a blank wall with supporting scenes on portable tablet-like viewboards representing books and other materials traditionally used in an office. RWAV can be used as an office, traveling office and an improved kitchen table. Examples for the kitchen table include a wall including shelves of kids games, a wall including everything that makes doing homework easier, a kitchen wall with extra scheduling news and last minute homework resources.

Make Your Menu:

Ernesto Arroyo

This interface allows a diner to "create their food virtually" instead of choosing menu items from a static text menu. A virtual plate appears on the tabletop interface. The user then chooses foods from the edge menus (i.e. hamburger by placing lettuce cheese, pickles and meat on the bun) and arranges the food on the plate. The order can then be delivered straight to the diner. This interface in language independent and makes it easier for the diner to visualize what will arrive.

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