Voltaire: a portable, high-performance coffee grinder that monitors bean freshness. Ever Cup: a sustainable travel mug for coffee+tea.
Latest Updates from Our Project:
We made it! 100k and counting...
almost 3 years ago
– Tue, Aug 02, 2016 at 03:24:52 AM
We knew 100k was a big goal, but you guys made it feel a lot less scary. Thank you so much for all the support, awesome comments and questions, and encouragement along the way.
We have a lot in store for the next week and a half, but we'll leave it right here for tonight:
Halfway there, halfway to go!
almost 3 years ago
– Fri, Jul 29, 2016 at 10:23:15 PM
What a great first week! This is our fourth Kickstarter project and we've finally earned the much-coveted "Project We Love" badge from the Kickstarter team - fourth time's a charm! Of course, we're also thrilled to be halfway to our funding goal and that much closer to bringing the Voltaire to life.
This is also a longer campaign than we’ve ever run, which means we’ll be able to share even more of the development process with you while the campaign is still funding. We’ll have some fun photos and videos to post as we go.
We’ve received a bunch of really great technical questions and comments about the grinder - as we expected from this community! We answered them one-by-one as they came in, but we’re also working on a “digest” of our responses, and we’ll add them to the FAQ section so they’re easier to find. In the mean time, if there’s any information you’re not finding on the project page or anything you’d like to know more about, please don’t hesitate to ask.
We’re waiting for updated prototypes of all of the companion products to arrive at HQ so that we can get some photos posted. For now, take a look at this family shot below. From left to right, meet the Courant Pour Over Stand, Villon Tamper, Domaine Tamping Stage, Ever Cup, Airvault Container, and Voltaire Grinder.
Voltaire and the Airvault are each sitting on top of a Sensing Platform. We had some great questions about how they interact, and the short version for everyone’s benefit is that the grinder and storage containers become “smart” when they sit on top of the sensing platform. That’s what houses all of the cool sensors and beams freshness data to the cloud and app. Even without the sensing platform, Voltaire’s digital timer can still store one grind pre-set time internally - and it still lights up :)
So you’re getting a grinder. How about a French press? Simpli press has a couple days left in their funding period and they’ve got a smart new take on the classic. Their press plays nice with a wide range of grind fineness, and you can even use a paper filter for a cleaner, pour-over style cup.
Ancolie wants you to banish wasteful plastic and embrace glass! They will be the first grab and go restaurant in New York City serving all meals in reusable jars. Check their campaign and be part of a zero-waste movement.
Rapid Prototyping Voltaire's Sensing Platform
almost 3 years ago
– Fri, Jul 29, 2016 at 10:21:44 PM
Let's talk science.
By itself, Voltaire is a great grinder (and the Airvault is a slick bean container). Paired with a Sensing Platform, they will give you unprecedented insight into the lifecycle of your coffee beans. We're offering two configurations - smart and standalone - so that you can choose whether or not to equip your Voltaire or Airvault with a Sensing Platform. Think of it as a modular system, composed of three products: the Voltaire Grinder, the Airvault Container, and the Sensing Platform. The platform can hook up with the grinder and/or the container... and when it does, the whole system gets really smart. The Sensing Platform data can be accessed through an app, allowing you to monitor your beans and even interact with the devices themselves: "Hey Voltaire - let's make French press for two. And can you re-order Hairbender before I run out? I'd give last week's blend a 98/100."
The Sensing Platform is arguably the most sophisticated aspect of what we're trying to accomplish with Voltaire. But its beginnings were as "home brew" as it gets. (Though we didn't make anyone work from a garage this time.)
This week, we're sharing an excellent post by our very dear friend (and certified super-genius) Scott Heimendinger. Scott help us prototype Voltaire's sensing platform - we touch on his involvement in the Kickstarter project page itself, but this deep dive into the process of rapid prototyping makes our circuits all tingly. It's a great read if you're interested in smart devices, "the making of things," or learning more about the sophisticated platform we've created and its relatively quick evolution from idea to prototype.
I had the incredible opportunity to help the GIR team develop the coffee freshness sensing technology that has become part of the Voltaire. I’m very proud of how much we accomplished in a very short period of time, but I’m even more impressed with how the technology to enable such rapid development is so accessible. If you’ve ever wanted to make your own IoT device – either commercially, or as a personal project – you might find this interesting.
But first, a shameless and resounding endorsement for the Voltaire. I’m a major coffee geek, and my morning espresso is more of a ritual than a routine. Anyone who has ever pulled a life-changing shot of thick coffee knows that you can’t make great espresso without an excellent grinder. So when GIR – the only folks in the world who have made me fall in love with a spatula – said that they were going to build a coffee grinder, I got very excited. But, this grinder is different from any you’ve used before. It’s smarter.
Starting From The Bottom Here’s how it happened. At this year’s International Home and Housewares Show, Samantha Rose, GIR’s founder CEO, showed me a prototype of a grinder that her company was working on – a Mr. Fusion-esque, sleek, portable coffee grinder with high-quality burrs and some very useful features like a digital timer. “But,” she said, “we had this idea to make it sense the freshness of your coffee beans, too. Except we’ve never done that kind of thing before.” My eyes lit up. I had done some of that kind of thing before for Modernist Cuisine projects, and as it turned out, I was about to have a lot of time on my hands. We decided to give it a shot (pun intended).
Sniffing Headspace Gasses with Little Electronic Noses By the end of week 1, we had determined that the idea was feasible. We pored through existing academic and industry research on coffee staling, and I ordered a bunch of gas sensors: CO2, Methane, Aldehydes, Ethanol, and others, and wired them up to a data logger. When I put the sensors in a container with coffee beans, their readings spiked. And, when we left the setup to log data over time, we could see that the concentration of the headspace gasses in the container diminished over time, just as we’d expect from beans losing freshness. This was great news, but far too little data to have certainty that we could determine freshness.
Over the next three weeks, we devised and ran a set of experiments to rule out as many confounding variables as we could. We measured and manipulated temperature, humidity, bean quantity, roast type, roast age, and grinding action, and we simulated a handful of storage scenarios before we finally convinced ourselves that the data we read from the sensors could be used as a reliable measure of freshness.
Having inexpensive and accurate data loggers let us parallelize much of this testing – one of our tests ran continuously for 30 days! Had we been limited by our ability to record from multiple sensors at once, the timeline would have grown considerably.
Once we were confident that this approach was sound, we wrote and submitted a patent application. Since the GIR team had done their industrial design in a CAD environment, it was trivial to create patent figure drawings from the 3D model, including cutaways. I whipped up a crude-but-useable 3D model of how we envisioned the sensing technology integrating with the grinder and rendered that out for patent figures as well. In the old days, we would have had to pay a technical artist to compose those drawings, costing the project both time and money. Now, all you need is Netfabb (free!) or a similar program to open nearly any 3D model format, inspect your parts, slice cutaways, and export your drawings. That closed out week 5. We were on a roll.
Prototyping in the Blynk of an Eye Now that we had a handle on working with the sensors, and an idea of how to package up the sensing technology, it was time to make a prototype. We decided on a “sensing base” form factor: a platform on which the grinder would sit that contained the electronics necessary for taking the measurements we’d need. Moving from bench experiments running on data loggers to a standalone prototype would allow us to interact with the sensing technology more naturally, emulating a user’s experience at home. We believed this might reveal key insights about how the freshness sensing experience should be designed – from hardware to service to mobile app – and could inform decisions early on, while changes are cheap and easy to make.
We had a few requirements for the prototype:
It needed to connect to the internet to log data that we could use later for analysis,
It needed to provide some way for a user to interact with it from his or her mobile device, and
It needed to be cheap enough to clone, so prototypes could be deployed for wider testing.
I had worked with Arduino in the past, and it was the natural platform choice for a small, internet-connected device that needed to read from sensors and control hardware. But, as we also needed to support a client interface, I dreaded the thought of having to run a web server on Arduino, or worse yet, build a cloud service and native mobile app from scratch.
You can imagine, then, how happy I was to discover Blynk. Blynk is a customized flavor of Arduino that comes nicely packaged in the SparkFun Blynk Board. For $29.95, it provides WiFi, an onboard temperature and humidity sensor, an RGB LED – very useful for communicating status – an analog-to-digital converter for reading from analog sensors, and enough digital input/output pins to suit our needs. But that’s not even the great part…
Blynk is also the cloud service and mobile app I had been looking for! You see, on an Arduino running Blynk’s library, the communication between pins on the board and your mobile app is pre-wired. In fact, if you’re doing simple enough things – like turning on or off a pin, reading an analog value, or changing the color of the LED – you don’t even have to write any code. Zero. Not a line. Press a button on your mobile app and watch the Blynk board respond. It was like magic.
Of course, our scenario was a little more complex than that. We had to interpret gas sensor values, read from a load cell, output status, and set some parameters that influenced the device’s behavior. In all, I wrote fewer than 700 lines of code (including comments!) to power the entirety of the freshness sensing prototype. Blynk’s code and a few Arduino libraries did the heavy lifting.
I also didn’t have to write a single line of UI code to deliver a fully-functional mobile app. The Blynk App (Google Play, Apple App Store) lets you drag-and-drop simple UI controls, like buttons, sliders, gauges, labels and even graphs and a terminal window. Within the mobile app itself, you can connect those UI controls to the Blynk board by assigning them pins: analog or digital pins to correspond to the Blynk hardware, or virtual pins that can be read and written by customizing the software running on your board.
The one place where the Blynk offering falls short is in its data logging and retrieval. Blynk does log the data that your board collects. Just add a graph control to the UI and connect it to the pins you want to monitor. However, getting that data back out of Blynk for analysis is still underdeveloped. Yes, there are ways to access it through a REST API, but that’s a pain.
So, we decided that in addition to letting Blynk do its logging, we’d also log somewhere more accessible for analysis. The obvious choice was ThingSpeak. It’s a free service designed for IoT devices to stash timestamped data, and they have Arduino libraries readymade. We were restricted to logging every 15 seconds at most, but that’s still plenty of resolution for our needs. When it’s time to analyze, it’s a one-button click to open your log in Excel. Not bad for $0.00.
Designing the Enclosure In addition to having user-friendly software, we also wanted the sensing base prototype to have a physical form factor that matched the grinder, and could be evaluated for industrial design and manufacturing. I had previously worked in 3ds Max – a great environment for mesh editing, but problematic for making physical stuff. In the past, I’d run into issues with my 3ds Max models not being watertight or having wall thickness problems when it came time to 3D print. So, I turned to Autodesk Inventor, which is a much more appropriate tool for designing stuff… especially stuff that needs to be assembled.
Thanks to some helpful training videos, I was able to get up-to-speed in Inventor in a day or two. Most of the electromechanical components we used had free 3D models available from SparkFun directly, and I found a load of others on GrabCad. This meant that I could spend less time measuring mount hole spacing with my caliper, and more time projecting the 3D models onto my Inventor drawings so I could see how everything would fit and where screw holes and standoffs should go. I could even drop in standard sized machine screws, making it simple to determine which screws I’d need to buy for assembly. From there, the design process was extremely fast: I was ready to print the enclosure components within a few days of CAD tinkering.
I’m Still Amazed by 3D Printing I should find 3D printing to be blasé by now since I’ve printed in thermoplastics, rubber, resin, porcelain, and stainless steel, but I’m still blown away every time I hold a 3D object that I dreamt up on my computer. Our big challenge was printing quickly enough to allow for iterations and reprints, if necessary. Although GIR has their own 3D printer, it was in Chicago and I’m in Seattle. That meant adding days of transit to turnarounds, and high shipping costs to rush delivery.
Instead, we turned to 3DHubs.com. It’s a service that connects you to people in your area who have 3D printers and will print your parts for a fee. I was lucky enough to find someone a mile away from me who printed my design with a 2-day turnaround for less than $70. That is pretty damn unbeatable.
I was thrilled to discover that assembly worked on the first print! [Brushes off shoulder]. All of the internal components fit exactly as they should, screws fit into screw holes, and things that should align did. That’s all thanks to having great software and a community-built library of 3D models at my fingertips.
Can you imagine how much this housing would have cost – in specialized software, industrial designers, CNC machining, and finishing – only a few years ago? Without cheap and ubiquitous 3D printing, and the easy-to-use software adoption it has driven, this would have been a months-long, megabucks endeavor.
Putting it all together So, after two weeks of prototyping work, and only 8 weeks since we kicked off the freshness sensing project, we had an actual, physical, internet-connected prototype running our own code, measuring actual coffee headspace gasses, controllable with an Android and iOS mobile app, and logging unlimited data to a cloud service for analysis.
Consider for a minute the incredible confluence of technologies that makes that possible. It’s never been easier to prototype these types of devices, and I’m sure that it won’t be long until the technology references in this article seem laughably outdated. Drake said it best: “What a time to be alive.”
In the spirit of the maker and hacker communities who drove these technologies forward, GIR has decided to make the sensing base’s firmware largely open source, and will provide APIs and SDKs to allow enthusiasts to develop their own apps that can work with the sensing base’s technology. Even though it was designed to measure the freshness of coffee beans, I can’t wait to see how others repurpose it!
This was a wildly cool project, and it was an honor to be involved. I’m so thrilled to see the Voltaire hit Kickstarter, and I encourage you all to support it if, like me, you care about great coffee.
Prototype to platform (Sam writing again, from here forward)
Of course, once the very first sensing base prototype was complete a whole new phase of work began: gathering mounds of data from our bench tests, building a machine learning system to process the data into something truly indicative of freshness, and refining our predictive algorithm so that Voltaire can actually tell you something useful about your beans. Already we've made improvements to our initial prototype (Scott would be proud), and discovered key sensing factors to refine our hardware and software architecture. We're building additional sensing base prototypes so that we can deploy a bunch of Voltaires in a test network and train them to get better and better at their job. And we'll continue that effort into and beyond delivering each sensing-platform-equipped Voltaire / Airvault to backers, so that together we can all help to improve the calculations and better understand what's happening with our beans.
We've also been working hard on building Voltaire's app - more to come in future updates - to strike the perfect balance between user experience and data accessibility. We know that some users won't want to move past the high-level info (what am I drinking? how fresh is it? how much is left?) and others will want granular historic insight into each sensor's data stream.
For those of you who've opted for the "standalone" grinder, sans sensing platform, we have a few app-centric surprises in store as well. A grind fineness readout and control over the digital timer are in the works.
Let's hear it for science!
Cheers, Sam + the GIR Team
Projects We Like
TrapTap is a legal and simple device that you put anywhere in your car to be warned of speed traps, school zones, & red light cameras! Check out their project at: http://kck.st/28Pvi9X
Our friends @ CJR are funding a beautiful curved regulator watch - the AIRSPEED. Characterized by an avant-grande design with a strong link to aviation inspiration, the AIRSPEED boasts a finely-curved glass case and features intentional details like luminous dial, outstanding Japanese automatic movement, alluring fluorescent inner ring and interchangeable straps. Check out their project at: http://bit.ly/AIRSPEEDxpromo
First Look: The Ever Cup - a sustainable travel cup for grownups
almost 3 years ago
– Fri, Jul 29, 2016 at 10:12:56 PM
Ever Cups have arrived! Check out these gorgeous photos of our newest prototypes.
Here’s what’s so special about the Ever Cup.
1. It’s a sustainable travel cup for grownups - sophisticated and sleek 2. The lid twists to create an airtight seal, and the locking mechanism is hidden 3. It’s really easy to clean - four parts, total. The two-piece lid comes apart with a simple twist and you can throw the whole thing in the dishwasher 4. The thick silicone band will protect your hand from hot liquids, and there's extra room for fingers big and small 5. We've chosen thoughtfully-sourced, recyclable materials across the board
Materials Four pieces. That's it. No yucky spring-load locking mechanisms, no weird places for stuff to grow. The whole thing comes apart for easy cleaning. (You know how we are about cleaning, right?)
Cup: Fully Tempered Glass with Electroplated Copper Base Thermal Band: Platinum Silicone (the same stuff we use in our award-winning spatulas) Inner Lid (seals to glass): Polypropylene - BPA Free, #5 Recyclable Outer Lid (twists to lock/unlock): Polypropylene - BPA Free, #5 Recyclable
Want to add an Ever Cup to your pledge? Just adjust the pledge amount by $20, + shipping of $10 US or $15 Int’l (which is flat rate for as many add-ons as you want).
We get that unlimited shipping isn’t a good deal if you just want to add Ever Cups to your pledge, so here’s what we’re going to do (if you've already added Ever Cups to your pledge, this counts for you too!):
Add TWO Ever Cups to your pledge for $40, and get free shipping for these and any other add-on rewards you want.
We hate to ask for additional shipping at all, but since the add-ons are going out in December ahead of the Voltaire and Airvault, we need your help! They’ll be sent in sturdy boxes with shipping insurance, so that the glass is extra well protected, inside and out.
We're really, really excited about these cups. Can't wait to hear what you think! Let us know if you have any questions about them, and thanks for being so patient while we got them ready for the limelight over the past couple weeks.
For-Ever yours, The GIR Team
Privacy: It Matters Our friends at Slow Labs Co. redesigned tempered glass as we know it, bringing strength, durability, & privacy to your mobile devices. You won't notice it's there, but others sure will. Check it out! Super Early Birds still available!
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ASAP Dash - World's Fastest Pocket-sized Phone Charger Stores enough power in15 minutes to charge an iPhone 2X. It works on all USB
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Pon+ If you're tired of poking holes in the pictures you hang up check out the Pon+. It's a minimal way to display your posters and photos without putting holes in your memories.
The Unclip by Unsettle The Unclip is a carabiner keychain that solves all your daily needs in one. Its quick release spring loaded wings keep your keychain fully secure while still making it easy to release with a simple touch. Goes without saying that it also features a bottle opener ;)
Backer request: more Ever Cup details!
almost 3 years ago
– Fri, Jul 29, 2016 at 09:39:07 PM
A few backers have asked for more details about the Ever Cups, so we put together some instructional sketches to call out our favorite features. Take a closer look:
And just in case you missed it, the cup holds 16 fl oz (475ml). Because you deserve that much caffeine, whether it's from coffee or tea.
Our mission with the Ever Cup was to create a beautiful, sustainable travel mug that felt more black-tie than kiddie-pool. Don't get us wrong... we love kiddie pools. But we're hoping that holding this cup makes you feel just a little more sophisticated as you go about your day.
As you can see from these diagrams, the cup, silicone band, and lid all align to create a perfectly smooth and comfortable profile. The silicone is generously proportioned to accommodate hands of all sizes; a lot of the other travel cups out there (what we'd call "the friendly competition") use a narrow silicone or cork band that makes it hard to avoid touching the glass itself.
We're awaiting a bit of news on the patent front, and as soon as we have things locked in - like, next week! - we'll post more images and a video of the mechanism in action.
Pascal Press Pascal Press is an integrated coffee brewer and travel mug that lets you brew high quality coffee on the go and enjoy it on your own schedule. It combines full immersion and pressure brewing techniques in a housing that isolates spent grounds to prevent over brewing. It is simple to use and clean, and allows you to enjoy multiple cups of high quality coffee over the course of your day. Check them out before their campaign successfully closes this Thursday at 2:55 pm EST!
RAFINO The RAFINO is a patent-pending coffee grind refining system that makes any coffee taste better, no matter which brew method you use. We can't imagine a better companion to the Voltaire than RAFINO to deliver a consistent coffee grind with micron-level precision.
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