April 13, 2017

Life hacks from VanBerlo

We at VanBerlo have a passion for the advancement of digital technology and the possibilities it brings. One possibility we thought to explore was hacking as a form of enhancing user interfaces and exploring new technologies. So, me and the rest of the digital team set ourselves a two-day challenge to hack the office coffee machine, and turn it into a voice activated wonder in caffeine creations!

We understand that technology advances because of the passion of innovators and their capability. This was the mantra that inspired us through the hackathon; an independent project that we underwent purely because we had the know-how, and wanted to put our digital skill to action.

'The only information we started with, was the goal and the timeframe, this left everything else to us' – Stefan Smarius

However, we still encountered challenges. The fact that we had just two days to give our result, made time a pressuring factor. Also with the hackathon, only the goal was pre-discussed. This left us with just two days to work out the entire methodology, the tools and then to implement a successful hack! Luckily due to the broad range of expertise we had assigned, we could get around this problem, ideating numerous different plans of action to put in place if we ran into problems.

Another challenge was the having to apply differing methods in such a short time frame. But this was a challenge we were prepared for, as exploring different techniques was one of the main reasons for doing the hackathon in the first place.

'Everyone has a specialty, but this project made it so that you had to get out of your comfort zone and helped create new inspiration'- Koen Beljaars

The benefit of stepping into the breach with this project, was that every step in the right direction we made was a victory. From working out how to get the Alexa Voice Service running on a Raspberry Pi, to synchronizing an LED light ring with the coffee machine, to having the Alexa correctly operate the coffee machine; satisfaction came in multiple occasions. This was made so much more poignant when it followed periods of uncertainty as we tinkered around with different methods. You could say that we experienced real eureka moments!


Eventually, we had it well and truly hacked. Where you had once pressed a button, you now had to just utter the phrase 'Alexa…trigger coffee (expresso cappuccino etc)' to get a refreshing coffee. In two days, we had managed to take the idea of a voice controlled coffee machine, and make it a reality using just a handful of committed experts and the right amount of motivation. We unveiled our brand new futuristic coffee machine to the rest of the Eindhoven office. Our pet hacking project was a great success!

You can read more about voice interface from Bram here.

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