counter intelligence MIT Media Lab

an interactive cookbook for the kitchen counter


Wendy Ju, graduate research assistant
Tilke Judd, undergraduate researcher
Rebecca Hurwitz, undergraduate researcher
Jennifer Yoon, undergraduate researcher

former researchers include Bonny Lee and Camilo Guaqueta


CounterActive is an interactive kitchen counter that teaches people to cook at home. The CounterActive interface projects recipes onto the kitchen counter. The cook can progress from step to step in the recipe, play steps aloud and access videos demonstrating each instruction.

[video overview of the CounterActive system]

This project developed out of a scenario entitled "Kids in the Kitchen," which examined how technology could provide children access to the kitchen and cooking. The initial recipes focused on how to read steps aloud to budding readers, and used videos to demonstrate techniques. As we progressed in the design, however, it became evident that the counter could help a much larger audience as well.

[Shockwave movie of Kids in the Kitchen scenario]

The main components of CounterActive are a computer, a projector, an electric field sensing array and a speaker system. This setup was originally inherited from the Interactive Table by the Media Lab's Physics and Media group. The visual display is projected onto the kitchen countertop to create a 28" by 20" interactive space that is impervious to the spills or messes inherent to cooking. Rehmi Posts' tauFish electric field sensing array and Matthew Hancher's Filament board eliminate the need for a mouse and keyboard; users interact with the system by touching the counter itself.

[diagram and pictures of CounterActive]

The CounterActive cookbook consists of dynamic HTML recipe pages which are viewed in a web browser. However, we specifically avoided designing the recipes like web pages-- in fact, we do not use windows, icons, menus or pointers at all-- to differentiate the experience of using the kitchen to cook from the experience of using a computer. We have developed four recipes for CounterActive to date: Sour Cream Berry Tarts, Banana Bread, South of the Border and French Getaway.

[sample screenshot of recipe]

So far, we have conducted user testing on two children and five adults. All professed to enjoy using the CounterActive counter and could see cooking with it in the future. They all liked that the steps were read aloud and accompanied by video; even the adults really desired redundancy of information in different media. The users also commented that they were glad that they controlled the pace of the cooking themselves. We observed that the arrangement of information and granularity of detail needed to be adapted for different skill levels as well as previous experience with the recipe.

More importantly, however, we observed that the users were very taken with the videos demonstrating the steps; in fact, they would play them even after they had completed a step! Further questioning indicated that the users liked to watch the videos even if they knew how to perform a step or if they had already finished it-- because they liked the reassurance that they had performed the step correctly. This indicates a larger need for user feedback in such an environment.

[testing, interview procedures in experiment application]



Ju, W., R. Hurwitz, T. Judd, B. Lee. CounterActive: An Interactive Cookbook for the Kitchen Counter. Extended Abstracts of CHI 2001 (Seattle, April 2001) p.269-270

Overview of CounterActive System
Quicktime video (~12 Mb) Winter 2001

Tilke makes Sour Cream Berry Tarts with the Counter.
Quicktime video (~7 Mb) Fall 1999

South of the Border

Sample footage from Guacamole recipe
Quicktime video (~5 Mb) Spring 1999

French Getaway

Making Of French Getaway
Quicktime video (~24 Mb) Summer 2000
French Getaway Recipe tour with screenshots and clips Quicktime video (~25Mb)
Fall 2000



Cooperstock, J.R., S. Fels, W. Buxton, K. Smith. Reactive Environments. Communications of the ACM, 40, 9 (1997) 65-73.

Omojola, O., E.R. Post, M.D. Hancher, Y. Maguire, R. Pappu, B. Schoner, P.R. Russo, R. Fletcher and N. Gershenfeld. An installation of interactive furniture. IBM Systems Journal, 39, 3/4 (Fall 2000), 861-879.

Nielson, J. Noncommand User Interfaces. Communications of the ACM 36, 4 (1993) 82-99.

Want, R., P. Fishkin, A. Gujar, B. Harrison. Bridging Physical and Virtual Worlds with Electronic Tags. CHI '99 (Pittsburgh PA, May 1999) ACM Press, 370-77.



For more information, contact Wendy Ju.



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Last updated 4/24/2001 by Wendy Ju.
c.2001 MIT Media Lab