20 years before smart coffee pots, connected caffeine created an Internet sensation

Mr. Coffee Smart Coffeemaker

Nobody likes trekking all the way down to the office coffee pot in a daze just to find out the coffee is stale – or worse, that it’s gone entirely. Which sounds a lot like a problem for this fabled “Internet of Things” we keep hearing about. You know, the smart home.

Mr. Coffee’s Smart Coffeemaker, due out next month, rises to the challenge with an app to let you schedule brew times, remind you to clean it, and most importantly, tell you how long the coffee has been siting.

Revolutionary! Except more than two decades ago, a group of ambitious Cambridge University students solved the same problem with a webcam, and became an Internet sensation.

“Caffeine consumption and computer science seem to be closely tied together.”

“Caffeine consumption and computer science seem to be closely tied together,” said Quentin Stafford-Fraser in an e-mail exchange about that first machine, the Trojan Room Coffee Pot.

What today may seem like a gag from The Big Bang Theory was serious business back in the early ‘90s, when the Cambridge University students aimed a camera at a shared coffee machine in the hall. Sleep-deprived researchers needed to know if there was any coffee left — and to get it while it was still hot. The pot went public on the World Wide Web in 1993, becoming what is credited as the first public Web cam.

“We were poor students who had to pay for every cup, and the coffee was pretty bad when it was fresh,” said Stafford-Fraser, “and appalling if you got the dregs at the end of the pot!”

In an era when everybody and their dog (and cat) has a $50 Web cam pointed at them, the idea of watching a coffee pot may seem about as exciting as watching paint dry. But by 1996 more than 1 million people on the Web had checked out the Trojan Room pot. It was one of the longest running Web cams when it was finally shut off in August of 2001.

Since those embryonic days of the Web, Stafford-Fraser has founded several companies, including a consultancy, Telemarq, and he is still a research associate at the Cambridge University Computer Lab. So does Stafford-Fraser think there’s any merit today to connecting a coffee machine to the Web?

Trojan Room coffee pot

“Network connectivity can improve the use of ordinary machines which are shared amongst several people,” he noted, citing another early effort to make ordinary appliances smarter. When he was working at the Olivetti Research Lab after college, he and several friends there rewired the communal drink vending machine to recognize employees and their preferences (hot chocolate, coffee with milk, etc.). As people approached the machine, the wireless employee badges they wore triggered the machine to dispense their drinks of choice.

It was one solution to the machine’s terrible user interface, illustrating one advantage that a Web-connected device can offer. The Mr. Coffee machine, for example, eschews a built-in abstruse LCD display in favor performing all the programming in an easy-to-follow app.

There was one catch with the Olivetti lab machine, recalled Stafford-Fraser and his friend Andy Ward: The system had a random mode that might pick a drink for you. The gentleman’s agreement at the research facility was that you drank what you were served, even if it turned out to be the machine’s “disgusting” Mokaccino.

The story points out that there’s one thing that a fast Internet connection or even a fancy app can’t promise today: A better cup of coffee.

Copenhagen’s New Bike Skyway Makes Commuting Look Fun

Copenhagen has long been leading the world in citizen-pleasing infrastructure, and the country has yet again outdone itself. In June, it welcomed the Cykelslagen, or Cycle Snake, an elevated cyclist roadway over the harbor to eases congestion.

This road is the latest addition to one of the most bicycle-friendly city infrastructures in the world. In Copenhagen, more than 50 percent of residents ride their bicycles to work. Portland, Oregon, with the most bicycle commuters in the United States, clocks in at 6.1 percent.


Credit those numbers to a culture that encourages cycling, but also to an infrastructure that does the same, with traffic lights timed for bicycle speeds, cobblestone paths with smoothed shoulders, and parking systems that position unoccupied cars as a buffer between cycle lanes and moving traffic. So many people cycle that it’s become a quaint issue to find parking for the two-wheelers.

Cykelslagen (pronounced soo-cool-klag-en) adds just 721 feet of length to the city’s 220 miles of bicycle paths, but it relieves congestion by taking riders over instead of through a waterfront shopping area.


“Underneath, there’s a harbor front, so there are slow moving-pedestrians,” says Mikael Colville-Anderson, CEO of Copanhagenize, a Danish design company. “It wasn’t a smooth commute for the cyclists. The people on bikes want to get home and the pedestrians want to saunter.”

Pedestrian-cyclist conflict was never an issue, but cyclists couldn’t pedal at a constant speed, and they had to deal with stairways. The new roadway, which runs one story above the ground, lets them move without interruption. At just over 13 feet wide, there’s plenty of room to pass even a double-wide cargo bike.

20111114 Situationsplan 1-200.ai

The Cykelslagen winds around the harbor front, in juxtaposition to the grid-like architecture of the area. This element of the design is, for all its beauty, purposeful. Bicycle roads have a maximum allowable gradient to prevent riders from picking up too much speed, and to allow riders on cargo bikes to ascend easily.

Making it curved adds length so the elevation changes can be gradual. The project cost 32 million Danish krone ($5.74 million). It was designed by architecture firm DISSING+WEITLING and built by Ramboll Group, an engineering company.

On top of its practicality, Cykelslagen makes riding a bike more fun and enjoyable. “You can see the Danish facade crack and people smiling,” Colville-Anderson says. “Even the driest city planners are saying, ‘this is so cool.’” Riders who take Cykelslagen in the mid-afternoon during the summer get to see the daylight filter between two nearby buildings.

When viewed from the harbor front below, pedestrians can watch riders flicker as they move along behind the guardrails. “It tickles all your senses,” Colville-Anderson says.

Now the city just has to tackle a new problem: Youths who think it’s fun to dive off the Cykelslagen into the harbor below.

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Spiral skyscraper replaces stairs with two rising intertwined ramps

The Endless City in Height concept from Sure Architecture (Image: Sure Architecture)
The Endless City in Height concept from Sure Architecture (Image: Sure Architecture)

The levels of a building are traditionally stacked upon one another with stairs or elevators used as a means of moving between them. A new design by Sure Architecture, however, takes a different approach. The Endless City in Height instead features two low gradient ramps that spiral upwards.

The spiral ramps are aimed at creating a more continuous building without breaks between l...
The spiral ramps are aimed at creating a more continuous building without breaks between levels (Image: Sure Architecture)

The Endless City in Height concept aims to show how buildings need not necessarily use traditional compartmental levels. The design does away with the breaks between floors to which we have become accustomed, replacing them with two intertwined low gradient ramps.

Sure Architecture says that the spiral ramps make the building an extension of the sidewal...
Sure Architecture says that the spiral ramps make the building an extension of the sidewalk and street below and, indeed, of the city itself (Image: Sure Architecture)

In this way, argues Sure Architecture, the building becomes merely an extension of the street or sidewalk below and of the city as a whole. In addition to providing a means for people to move up or down the building, the ramps are interconnected with bridges. This allows for greater access throughout the building.

The spirals are linked with internal bridges (Image: Sure Architecture)
The spirals are linked with internal bridges (Image: Sure Architecture)
Sure Architecture suggests that the ramps themselves might be of irregular and varying sizes, thus creating a variety of different environments and spaces within the building.
Sure suggests that the ramps themselves might be of irregular and varying sizes, thus crea...
Sure suggests that the ramps themselves might be of irregular and varying sizes, thus creating a variety of different environments and spaces within the building (Image: Sure Architecture)

The building, it suggests, could be a complex and rich system like a real city, featuring “commercial and vibrating streets, innovative and technologic spaces, huge parks or public places which communicate with auditorium, inside or outside areas, dynamic exchange places or intimate quiet areas.”

The building, suggests Sure, could be a complex and rich system like a real city (Image: S...

Beyond its spiral ramps, it is proposed that the building would minimize water loss by reusing water where possible, would maximize passive energy use and reduce artificial lighting, ventilation and cooling needs. Six vertical tubes would support the ramps and would provide vertical transport spaces for people, energy, waste, water and prefabricated modular steel elements for the skyscraper’s growth.

The building was designed with a location in London in mind (Image: Sure Architecture)
The building was designed with a location in London in mind (Image: Sure Architecture)

The Endless City in Height was designed with a location in London in mind, though it remains to be seen whether it will ever make the jump from design concept to construction.

Dutch docklands dreams up star and snowflake-shaped floating hotels

dutch docklands dreams up star and snowflake-shaped floating hotels

adding to the netherlands’s centuries-long legacy of designing for water environments, the company dutch docklands has developed numerous concepts for floating hotels and dwellings.

dutch docklands floating hotels designboom
the proposed design appears as a highly sculpted block of floating ice

their projects are scattered all across the globe, specifically in the maldives, united states, norway, and middle east. the schemes are often composed as large-scale symbolic forms, which are representative of their given region. in particular, three of their designs take the shape of a starfish, a snowflake, and an ocean flower.

dutch docklands floating hotels designboom
the vacation homes line a wood deck, which takes the shape of an ocean flower

the ‘greenstar’, situated in the middle of an atoll in the maldives, is a floating convention center and hotel composed of five appendages. the structure is built of terracing levels and covered in green materials.

dutch docklands floating hotels designboom
the complex is located 20 minutes by boat from the country’s capital of malé

intended as a symbol for ecological design and environmental integration, the complex is envisioned as a primary location for conferences regarding climate change, water management, and sustainability.

dutch docklands floating hotels designboom
the complex includes 185 dwellings

to symbolize the frigid oceans of scandanavia, dutch docklands has imagined a snowflake-shaped hotel to be located off norway’s fjord coastline. the 5-star facility is composed of 6 crystals, containing 86 rooms as well as a conference space, spa, and wellness center. the scheme is planned to be completely self sustaining in regards to energy demands.

dutch docklands floating hotels designboom
beyond full oceanfront contact, each residence contains a pool

in a joint venture with the government of the maldives, the company is developing ‘the ocean flower’, which is comprised of waterfront villas arranged in the shape of a typical flower from the region.

dutch docklands floating hotels designboom
the development includes three separate types of villas

the project’s first phase includes 185 dwellings, with each featuring its own private pool. the masterplan also contains a beach, restaurants, shops, diving center, spa, and a separate private island. the complex is located only 20 minutes by boat from the country’s capital of malé and its international airport.

dutch docklands floating hotels designboom


External audit grounds military expansion plans

Von der Leyen zu Truppenbesuch Archiv 14.05.2014 Prizren

The report by KPMG, engineering firm P3 and law firm Taylor Wessing is set to be released on Monday.  It outlines 140 problems and risks with the current major operations of the Bundeswehr (German military).

Von der Leyen, from Chancellor Angela Merkel’s centre-right Christian Democrats (CDU), requested the investigation herself after being unhappy with internal audits.

External audit grounds military expansion plans

In past weeks, the Bundeswehr has fallen victim to the shabby state of its equipment when aid to Ebola-hit West Africa and a much heralded weapons delivery to the Kurdish province of Iraq was delayed because of faulty planes.

Von der Leyen told broadcaster ZDF on Saturday that in light of the report, her mission now is to balance the retrofit of the Bundeswehr with her plans to expand the military’s presence.

“To end a number of armed disasters, Minister von der Leyen now has to undertake radical reforms,” said Agnieszka Brugger, the Green party’s security policy spokeswoman, who called the findings “alarming”.

Rolf Wirtgen, director of the Scientific Collection of Defence Engineering Specimens of the Federal Office of Equipment, Information Technology and In-Service Support in Koblenz (BAAINBw - Bundesamt fuer 'Ausruestung, Informationstechnik und Nutzung der Bundeswehr' ) stands in front of a Boxer, a German-Dutch multirole armoured fighting vehicle at the Bundeswehr collection in Koblenz October 6, 2014. REUTERS/Wolfgang Rattay

On Friday, the defence minister outlined plans for the expansion of the Bundeswehr’s international engagement. As well as a training mission in Iraq, von der Leyen hopes to send German reconnaissance drones to supervise ceasefires in the Ukraine conflict.

The centre-left Social Democrats (SPD), whose leader, Frank-Walter Steinmeier is Germany’s Foreign Minister, say the CDU politician is overstepping her authority with these plans.

“I’m under the impression that the Minister is jumping the gun here, without any international vote and without considering any legal requirements,” SPD defence specialist Rainer Arnold told the Saarbrücker Zeitung on Monday. “One does not take on more responsibility on issues not yet discussed by parliament or the public.”

The Euro Hawk armed drone. Photo: DPA

The Süddeutsche Zeitung on Monday reported that the audit calls for a careful decision regarding the €4 billion Meads as a successor to the aging Patriot surface-to-air missile system, citing “too many unanswered questions”.

It also recommends reviving the scandal-plagued armed drone “Euro Hawk”, on which development stopped in 2013. “We have to make this thing a success,” Arnold told the Rheinische-Post on Monday.


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