Apr 11, 2016 | By Tess

As our lives become increasingly filled with devices and appliances that can be conveniently controlled from our smartphones, such as our security systems, lights, heating, and cars, our older, non-IoT appliances can sometimes begin to feel a bit cumbersome. And while computing and programming whizzes can update and modify old electrical devices, not all of us have the chops to begin taking apart our old toasters to reprogram them—think of Homer Simpson’s disastrous time traveling-toaster.

Fortunately, a team of researchers collaborating with Autodesk Research, have been developing a new system called RetroFab, which provides technically less experienced users with a design and fabrication environment through which they can easily retrofit and repurpose their existing physical appliances and interfaces using 3D scanning and 3D printing technologies.

Raf Ramakers, a PhD candidate at Hasselt Univeristy/iMinds in Belgium who developed the RetroFab system with Autodesk Research, explains, “Using an interplay of hardware and software, we provide non-expert users an end-to-end solution that allows them to reconfigure and interconnect traditional legacy devices, without requiring structural changes to the existing interface.”

Essentially, the RetroFab system itself consists of a 3D CAD environment and a toolkit with actuators and sensor primitives. To use it you’ll also need a standard 3D scanner, and access to a 3D printer. To retrofit one of your appliances, for example a toaster, you’ll have to first 3D scan the object, and upload the scan onto the RetroFab CAD system, which itself is built onto Autodesk Meshmixer. Next, using the user-friendly interface, you will have to highlight and select the controls on your appliance, for instance the toasting timer knob, or the “ON” button.  The software system is also equipped with a different type of selection brush for each type of control and indicator function. Once this information has been properly input into the software, the RetroFab system automatically generates a 3D printable model of an add on physical interface for your appliance.

With the retrofit proxy interface printed, you’ll simply have to follow a set of detailed assembly and wiring instructions, which will help get your old appliance connected. Finally, when all is done, you’ll be able to control and even establish pre-set commands for your appliances using the RetroFab App on your mobile device. Additionally, if you wanted to completely redesign your appliance’s interface you could actually do so using RetroFab and Autodesk Meshmixer.

“In many ways, RetroFab goes beyond the traditional IoT vision of interconnecting and monitoring multiple heterogeneous devices. Our technology enables users to change the behavior of devices and rearrange the layout of user interfaces. This allows for new opportunities, such as resolving design flaws in interfaces or enable shortcuts to frequently used or personalized actions,” explains Ramakers. “Many stoves, for example, have temperature dials located on the back panel which requires moving one’s arm over frying pots or pans. With RetroFab these controls can be repositioned to a more convenient or safe location, such as the side panel of the stove. To further protect these controls from children, one could even add a key lock to the proxy interface.”

While admittedly, the RetroFab system does make for some rather bulky appliance add-ons, the innovative approach is still highly commendable, and we can only imagine what the system will develop into with further research. As mentioned, the RetroFab system could have a big impact on childproofing existing appliance interfaces, as well as personalizing them more than was ever possible.

The RetroFab team will be presenting their work next month at this year’s ACM Conference on Human Factors in Computing Systems in San Jose, California.



Posted in 3D Printing Application



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sflank wrote at 4/15/2016 6:34:02 PM:

And yet the impulse - and ability - to fix, rather than replace, is clearly in our long-term interest

bbking56 wrote at 4/12/2016 6:09:57 PM:

What a poor direction we're headed in when we take a simple $20 toaster and turn it into complex tech. We no longer get to pop in a slice of bread and press the lever, but rather reach for our smartphone or computer, call up a toaster app while popping the bread in and fiddle with the user interface. We also get to add some wires to our kitchen counters. And if something goes wrong call tech support. How simple. ..

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