Concept #3 : Automatically detoxing your kitchen.

A very curious device that I found in every apartment when I originally moved to Brooklyn, was this white circle shaped plastic protuberance hanging from the ceiling in almost every room. I must mention that back then, I also moved in with my own black circle shaped metal device also known as a “comal”. A comal is a cast iron flat plate to cook everything from tomatillos, cecina to tortillas and everything in between. It was not long until I discovered that both of them didn’t like each other. Every time I turned the comal on to prepare a midnight quesadilla, the white protuberance on the ceiling started howling as if I was a thief. What was so important to guard that couldn’t wait for my midnight snack to be ready? Now I know, it was my own life.

I was about 8 years old on a christmas family reunion when I discovered the smell of kitchen gas (I figured later, that smell was added on purpose). I remember standing there in the kitchen inhaling what I assumed was a delicious toast bread smell. My aunts rushed in and made a big deal because gas was leaking, opened the windows etc. Additionally they decided, that it was a good moment to give little R a good life lesson and proceeded to give me a bunch of facts on how dangerous gas was, how many people die every year from poisoning, etc. From that moment on, I became obsessive about it, always (literally every day) checking whether the stove was not on before going to bed or when coming home. The irony is that all this time I’ve missed the main cause of death for this kind of accidents: Carbon Monoxide. Assuming no explosion, Natural gas kills you the same reason water kills you when you drown: Lack of Oxigen to breath. You’ll get drowsy before it is lethal. On the other hand, Carbon Monoxide kills you because it attaches to your red blood cells resulting in your body not being able to capture the right amount of oxigen for a prolonged amount of time (1). In the former, the risk stops as soon as you leave the room (on time), the latter: it’s a death sentence if you are not treated fast enough.(3)

If you search for CO sensors on the internet you’ll realize they are extremely affordable. So, if CO is easy/cheap to detect, why are there still horrible accidents happening? 

Burning Natural Gas (properly) does not produce Carbon Monoxide. That means you can cook a soup for 4 hours straight in the middle of the winter with the windows closed at no risk. However, a bad flame (usually other color than blue) or preparing quesadillas in a comal, using an iron cast skillet or a poorly maintained gas water heater indeed produce CO (1).

What to do about this? First of all, get a couple of those white rounded plastic protuberances (CO sensors) and install them in the kitchen and rooms. However, detecting CO is half of the solution. A smart home should be able to do something about it in addition to sounding the alarm. My proposal is to remove the human from the loop. Same as AirBags in a car that just act when there is danger to protect the passenger, something in the kitchen or room should just act upon the threat of excessive Carbon Monoxide. 

Following: a far fetched concept on how to solve this problem, we need to start somewhere right?

Basic Idea

When you’re in a gas station, pay attention to what’s on the ceiling. A massive installation of something that looks like Medusa’s hair, it is a series of hoses pointing to you that will throw fire extinguishing foam to you and your car in case of fire. The point I’m trying to make is that in emergencies, everything is valid: Even soaking your client with foam (sounds like a Punk’d episode). What I’m proposing as a concept is something a little bit radical: To suck all the air in the room instantaneously and expel it out of the kitchen replacing it with fresh air from outside. It doesn’t even matter if outside is 0 Celsius (32F), what matters is that the room got detoxed and you’ll be fine.

Plan of Action

In a nutshell what I’m proposing is to have a return air fan and a set of separate dampers that will open at the dangerous CO levels event to let toxic air out and fresh air in. The fan needs to be big or powerful enough to recycle the room’s air fast enough. A better option is to be a little less radical and have the system detect CO early on and start moving air out before it becomes dangerous. In either case I need to make a hole on the wall or on a window for the air to flow in/out without having to depend on a sack of flesh (the human) to open the windows.

Regarding the actual CO sensors, I’m not a big fan of reinventing the wheel (although that’s what we do in this blog all the time), for that reason, it would be ideal to reuse the already commercially available ones. Maybe we could have a microphone that detects the loud alarm sound, to trigger the air flush sequence. As usual, humans (like me), will press the “silence” button in the alarm and keep preparing the quesadillas however, by then the CO Flusher would have already started the sequence of opening the dampers and start the exhaust fan. That way we get the best of both worlds: The human has been notified, and there is an actual automated action going on to clean the air.

In commercial buildings you have two independent air ducts: One for AIR IN and another one for AIR OUT. Additionally, there are cooling and heating coils in the air return to remove humidity from outside air and to heat/cool the air before it is returned to the room. However in this case, we use the same duct for IN and OUT intermittently to avoid the hassle of installing two ducts.

Design Notes

  • The most basic setup consists of a fan microphone and orchestrator, the dampers are optional but needed to keep the room insulated from external weather.
  • The internal CO sensor is used as a backup and to validate the alarm.
  • The orchestrator is needed to translate the sound into an event that will trigger the servo controller to open/close the dampers and for the drive controller to start the fan. Additionally, it approximates how much air flow has passed through the duct and reverses the motor for it to bring in fresh air.

Further Improvements

+ A set of temperature sensors and cooling and heating coils for incoming air to be at room temperature

+ A set of humidity sensors for outside air to be dehumified

+ A smarter orchestrator that could turn this prototype into a mini HVAC system.

Top of Mind Conclusions

Installing a system like this into an existing house or apartment would be a little bit complicated, however in new constructions it could be part of the default installations making it transparent to the user. This system could also be useful in small houses that require indoor fire burning (stoves, fireplaces, etc) and in any kitchen in the world where quesadillas are prepared…

This idea follows the Zombie Home Manifest

Read More

(1): https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/carbon-monoxide/symptoms-causes/syc-20370642

(2): https://www.healthline.com/health/gas-leak-symptoms

(3): http://ipcblog.org/2009/12/15/know-the-difference-between-carbon-monoxide-and-natural-gas/

Concept #2 : Dog Gamification + Smart Home

The idea in a nutshell: To install a series of levers, buttons, lights and sounds actuators around the house or apartment for dogs to be entertained while owners are not around. Ideally, the smart home would randomly generate new ways to call the dog’s attention and learn from what is effective or not.

Why would we want this? Let me use my own experience as an example : My dear dog “Chicharron” has destroyed about 15 books, 8 DVDs, a passport, a couple hats , a couch, countless toys and even a snake plant with his teeth. At first I thought he was just a bad dog, then I got the feeling that he was just hungry so I started feeding him much more. He still chewed on random things all the time (I get he is young and his teeth are growing). We gave him a massive amount of chewable toys, all colors and sized but nothing really changed. I’d like to believe he is just bored. Chewing things seem to be the way he copes with boredom because he never does it when we are around.

Doing some research I found a Swedish Dog games designer called Nina Ottosson, in her website she mentions the following:

 “All dogs need to use their head sometimes in order to feel good, and some dogs have a greater need than others. If they don’t get to channel their energy into an organized activity, they can sometimes create their own “fun”, which is not always appreciated by the owners, such as chewing on things, or just get hyperactive”.

Worth mentioning: Nina Ottosson has a full line of Dog Activity Games that look great. I’m ordering a couple today for Chicharron. However what I’m proposing is a little bit more on the crazy Emmet “Doc” Brown side from “Back to the Future” with electronics, lights and mechanical components. If you remember the opening scene of the first movie, there is a full contraption that feeds “Einsteing” (his dog). I like to imagine that in this alternate and fictional movie universe, the “Doc” would have also invented and developed a way to stimulate “Einstein’s” brain (pun intended).

First of all we need to think about the Dog Interface/Experience (DI/DX):

  • The levers and buttons needs to be rugged enough to withstand chewing.
  • Dog should be able to interact with its Paws, Tongue, Teeth or Snout.
  • Light actuators should be within the dog’s line of sight.
  • Reward dispensers should make it easy for the dog to retrieve its payoff (and communicate explicitly that a reward was dispensed).
  • Sensors should not only include levers and buttons but also microphones (to pick up dog sounds like whining, crying or barking) and cameras for computer vision to be able to recognize bad habits (like taking things from the top of the table or opening the Trash can).
  • The feedback shouldn’t only come from the light actuators but also from any other smart home device (like living room lights, colors, blinds, etc)

Plan of Action

We are going to design an hypothetical system that will give cues to the dog(s) to take an action. The dogs will have to be trained to respond to the cues via the input gadgets (rope pulls, cranks, buttons) for them to acquire a reward (could be a treat or a sound). The system will get feedback (how and when the dog reacted to the cues) via the Microphone, Computer Vision enabled camera and the Movement sensors. A “Dog Actions Classifier” will interpret the feedback inputs and recommend the next cue.

Design Notes

  • The system should NOT be connected to the internet and that is OK. This is not intended for dog owners to play remotely with their dogs… This is literally, the Smart Home playing with the dog and learning from it.
  • Maybe it is not explicitly depicted in the diagram but all the components should communicate wirelessly. This would avoid the problem of dogs chewing on the cables.
  • The only components that need to be dog-ruggedized are the input gadgets : the cord pull, crank buttons, etc
  • Also, not explicitly depicted in the diagram but there is a micro controller that orchestrates all the gadget in an asynchronous way. Every gadget should still work even if that controller is down.
  • The most basic Classifier should be pre-trained, however it would be fascinating to have it train against every dog’s particularities. Also, to randomly come up with new cue-action-reward combos to discover new ways to entertain the dog.
  • The dog will reinforce the system the system will reinforce the dog.

Further Improvements

+ Connect the system to the internet for owners to play remotely with its dog. Although I suspect owners will rapidly loose interest after doing so a couple of times. Hence the importance of having the smart home interact with the dog directly

+ Maybe implement something similar for cats? Do they care?

Top of mind conclusions

The chances of somebody investing more than a $100 in a toy or a system to entertain a dog are practically zero (I usually wouldn’t). Nevertheless, as I’m writing this post, Chicharron just destroyed today the living room rug that costs much more than a $100. Could the case be made that the ROI for such implementation is positive? How do you know what your dog is going to destroy in advance? Also, is this a more humane way to keep dogs from destroying things? (opposed to keep them outside or in a cage). Or, are we creating obsessive compulsive animals that require constant feedback? Are dogs even interested in an interactive experience?

I’ll put this concept (Dog Gamification) in consideration for a prototype build. I might be able to assemble a very primitive version of it with some Arduinos and Raspberry Pis and some cheap sensors that I find online. That will be part 2 : Stay tuned.

This idea follows the Zombie Home Manifest

The lost and failed ancestor of your idea.

Let’s say you have a brand new idea. Let’s be honest, maybe you should just forget about it… Why? Because by definition you are absolutely biased by your own background, assumptions and context. You are to such idea what a mom is to her baby. You won’t see anything wrong with it, you’ll love it and you’ll do anything it takes to demonstrate the world that you are right (even if you aren’t).

As I was doing the laundry last Sunday, I realized that not because I do it every week, the clothes are getting cleaner, they are just the same every week. Same as the Jackpot player that pulls the lever once or a thousand times, the probabilities don’t really increase as it resets every time however subconsciously there is indeed a sense of progress. How many hours have you spent thinking about that awesome idea you had a year ago? How do you know that every day you don’t just reset your vision and replay the same scenarios on how that idea will succeed?

In order to break that mental ping pong you need to run a very simple mental exercise:

“Assume that exactly the same idea was already imagined by somebody smarter that you and with more funding than you… but it failed.”

By doing so, the following happens :

  • You stop day-dreaming that you have the killer, world changing idea that will be sold out the first day and focus in what is important which is your product.
  • It brings you closer to the hard reality that you might fail as well but it also gives you the chance to demonstrate that your execution and tactics are much better.
  • When somebody gives you feedback, you’ll actually listen instead of trying to “correct” them as they could be giving you valuable information that the other guys might have ignored.
  • You become more cold blooded with trivial features as making a series of wrong choices could have been the reason of the other guy’s demise .
  • You stop pretending you can be everything for everybody. You want to live to see the next day even if that involves only serving one segment at a time.

As the saying goes: “It is not the idea, it is the execution what matters”. Execution is the art of smuggling an idea from the Imaginary world to the Real world. The crystallization of something ethereal. We should focus on being the Marco Polo of ideas, you and only you know your silk road.

Every time I meet a film director I ask them the same question: If I gave the same script and budget to 5 different directors… would I get the same movie? The answer is unequivocally “no”.

So, why ideas would be different? Ideas being the equivalent of scripts. I would bet you would not be able to replicate Facebook even if you were sent back in time to that dorm at that moment in history same as you wouldn’t be able to replicate Clockwork Orange by Stanley Kubrick even if you had the exact same crew and script.

That is actually good news. Because you could be the “One” that executes right, that non original idea you just got. : )