The iPhone Inspired DIY Kitchen Touch Screen Project
Author : Ryan - Auckland, New Zealand email


    iphone-inspired-kitchen-touch-screen-computer

                              
The Scope

For years my wife has been on at me to put a computer into the kitchen where she can manage her recipes, shopping lists, to do lists and access the internet for looking up various things.  After looking at a couple of pretty basic and well overpriced commercial units we decided to have a crack at doing this ourselves.

Her requirements:
- must be discrete and look like a digital picture frame when not being used.
- must be touchscreen.
- must have internet access.
- must be easy to use and not crash often (she's used to windows vista)
- must have barcode scanner for managing her kitchen database.
- the wires and techo stuff must be hidden and out of sight.
- should be able to view what's on the lounge TV in the kitchen.


Touch Screen Monitor

First thing on the list was to locate a reasonable priced touch screen monitor.  As we wanted to use this as a digital photo frame when not in use we decided to use a 4:3 aspect monitor so that when displaying photos there was no need for stretching or black bars to show images in full screen.

     open-frame-touch-screen-front     open-frame-touch-screen-rear

I decided to use an "open frame" touch screen monitor as these come with no plastic case and are just the bare touchscreen and exposed metal case, going this way ensured I got the smallest unit possible and could easily build and fit a wooden frame to this.

I imported a ELO 19" 4:3 open frame SAW touch screen monitor from Hong Kong (with a large amount of other equiptment for another job), these are a commercial touch screen made for kiosks etc, the monitor that arrived was very good quality the screen is vandal and water proof also which is perfect for if we ever have any kids or have drunk friends over.

The connections are very simple, 1 x 12vDC power feed, 1 x USB for driving the touch screen and a VGA and DVI sockets for connecting to a video feed.

I plugged this into my laptop to test and literally within 5 minutes the thing was setup, calibrated and working.


Computer Hardware

Initially for the prototype I used an old 2.0ghz dell that we have lying around but after doing some testing I realized that to stream television and music,  run the weather station, home automation and to do a few other background tasks that we would be better just building a new PC for this purpose rather than to frustrate my wife with a potentially slow user experience.
         
So Christmas 2010 came 11 months early and off I went to our local hardware supplier and picked up the following:

1 x Gigabyte H55M-UD2H Intel P55 Motherboard
2 x 2GB DDR3 Memory Modules
1 x  Intel Core i5 650 3.20GHz Processor
1 x Western Digital 800GB 32MB SATA II Caviar Green Hard Drive
1 x Copy of Windows 7 Professional  (the most expensive part here)
1 x Coolermaster Elite 333 Mid Tower Case

      

I haven't built a computer in probably 8 years so it was an "educational" night putting everything together and noting how many small things have changed in the last 8 years.  (I nearly took the SATA hard drive back because the IDE cable woud'nt fit onto it) 

  But in the end, in the legendary  words of Borat 
  "Great Success
!"
  Everything fitted together and even powered up.


Installation / House Modification


We ran the prototype up on the kitchen bench for a week to make sure the whole idea was feasible and would actually work.  After a week we could easily see the benefits of having a computer in the kitchen and decided to go ahead with the in wall installation.

It then took me another 2 weeks to get up the guts to cut a hole in the kitchen wall of our new house.

We were lucky that the wall we wanted to mount the screen in to was a non supporting / non structural wall so it was just a matter of cutting a hole, emptying out the honeycomb supporting material in side and running some wires.

In the second photo below (with the artwork) you can see a small "incident" that happened when I hit a chisel too hard when trying to tidy up an edge and punched a hole right thru the wall to the other side.  Luckily for me the hole ended up directly behind some artwork where I was able to hide it for a few days until I got the courage to break it to my wife (and kindly ask her to fix it)

    in-wall-touch-screen    touch-screen-stuff-up

Once the hole was made I spend a good two hours wiring up the 240v stuff and feeding the required wires and cables inside the wall into a small cabinet under the bench that will hold this computer and a bunch of other parts of our home network.

   touchscreen surround   

Above you can see the wooden frame that I built for the touch screen, I just went to the local hardware store and brought several meters of unpainted pine, a saw and mitre, some PVA glue and cut and built up this simple frame, I then painted it a couple of tones darker than the rear wall and away we went.

Under the screen I replaced a dual 3 pin power point with a couple of switches to switch the power for both the monitor and wired to the computers on/off switch as I wanted a quick, physical way that we could turn things on and off very quickly when we were walking out the door.

        kitchen-touch-screen-wiring 2

Above you can see the cupboard under the kitchen bench and some of the "still to be tidied up" wiring that I had to run.  The two "additional" holes you can see were for lack of a better term "a complete fu@k up" as there was a beam between them and the wiring I needed to pull thru.  Lets call them "air holes" for now.

       

Above you can see the old prototype computer sitting in the cupboard / server room and the 240v power stuff on the right.

After monitoring the temperater in the cupboard and seeing with the doors closed it rise to over 35 degrees Celsius I installed a 120mm "silent" fan I brought online for $20 from some case modding online store.

Also in these photos you can see the 2TB macpower NAS, Netgear Router, USB TV card, switched and unswitched power feeds and wireless weather station connected to the computer via USB.

The red LED fan, was not by choice, I thought I was ordering a fan that was made of red plastic as it was cheap but that's what arrived.

The User Interface

I previously spent a few years doing website design so I wanted a basic HTML based user interface that we could customize easily and quickly to our exact requirements.  After extensively searching the internet for some sort of "out of the box" window based menu system I gave up and experimented with using Microsoft's Active Desktop and a locally stored HTML webpage as the user interface. 

I asked my wife how she wanted the screen to look and her response was "like an iPhone" so that's the path I went down and as a result the "iKitchen" was built..Using Active Desktop to run the interface actually works perfectly, and only took a total of about two hours to design, build and get fully up and running.   

There are numerous alternatives for active desktop for when I upgrade to Windows 7 but I'm currently working on an updated interface that I'm building in Adobe Flash CS4.


I purchased a very good program called Comfort On Screen Keyboard Pro
this is pretty much a fully featured keyboard except its on the screen of the touch screen. I'm actually amazed at how fast you can type on there, I highly recommend this program.

          

We are still tweaking the IU and adding and removing applications as we find a need for them but as of writing this article we have the following applications displayed on the iphone themed main screen

Due to many requests I have setup an open source forum where you can download the UI, Database and Graphics from, my only request is that if you make changes or improve on any of these things you upload them or email back to me so I can use and share with others.   visit the forum here

- Kitchen Database   (uses barcode scanner to manage our shopping)
- To Do List    (simple RSS based to do list) 
- Google    (opens a browser to Google search)
- Email    (Microsoft outlook, but its not really that suitable for touch screen)
- Weather    (opens weatherview32 for our local weather station)
- Slideshow    (activates windows slideshow of our digital camera)
- Cooking Timer    (runs kitchen timer)
- Calendar    (initiates outlook calendar)
- Tweet Adder    (amazing twitter marketing software, try it!) download link
- Twitter    (opens twitter)
- Scoreboard    (HTML page showing followers on our twitter accounts)
- Watch TV    (runs up the USB TV tuner taking a feed from the lounge)
- Calculator    (windows calculator)
- Google Maps   (opens a browser and displays Google maps)
- Skype    (opens Skype for talking to my mum)
- iTunes    (apple iTunes with airport express connected)
- Shutdown PC    (runs a shutdown script)
- File Explorer    (opens windows file explorer)
- Trade Me    (opens trademe in a browser, similar to eBay)
- Settings    (another HTML page with various links to settings)


Project Cost (in new zealand dollars)

ELO open frame touch screen monitor                $524
Computer hardware                                                 $1142
Barcode Scanner                                                      $67
Building Materials and Paint                                   $94
Misc cables, power adaptors etc                           $66
Total :                                                                           $1893 NZ$  (Jan 2010)

This project could have been done for a fraction of this price by using a 2nd hand computer and using standard monitor with one of those cheap DIY add on touch screen conversion kits or even one of these 15" touchscreens that I have managed to source a few of.


Going Forward / Future Enhancements

We have been using the system for just under a month now and honestly cant believe we ever got along without this.  Already we have a few small tweaks that we are planning to make over the next month or so.

They include:
- In Process of installing connected biometric reader for front door.
- Wife would like the house to "greet her" like a butler when she comes home.

- Upgrading from XP to Windows 7.
- Fit timer instead of manual switch to turn off monitor at night.
- Finish installing barcode scanner under sink.
- New Interface built in Flash CS4.
- Built an SMS interface for setting reminders from offsite.
- Install our Home Automation software onto here.
- Install a webcam of the garden to display on this screen when not used.
- Some power saving improvements here and there.
- Somehow hide a webcam nicely in the kitchen for skype.
- Hook to phoneline to allow handsfree, voice dialing, answerphone.
- Wine / Champagne database with bottle "snapshot" from camera.
- Add speakers (how did I forget these!, stupid!)


More Photos  

Bardcode Shopping Lists Used as Digital Photo Frame
Weather Station Display Another Weather Screen
Kitchen / Cooking Database Kitchen Timers
Email / Outlook Google Maps
In Kitchen Twitter Scoreboard



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Get a copy of the database, user interface, the lot!

I'm travelling till early next year so having problems keeping up with all
the emails and advice so instead I have organized for the next couple of
months where you can get a copy of everything I have running on this PC to experiment with and pull apart and develop yourself.

Awesome!

You get the, html interface, all icons, fully loaded kitchen .mdb database,
all the photoshop .psd masters I used, bunch of drivers and other software,
heaps of installation and behind the scenes pictures
+ all files and other random stuff that I kept.

$9us and it's all yours!
I figure I put over 100 hours into this stuff
alone so even by New Zealand standards
9c an hour for my time sounds fair.



no support or installation guides etc are included
Questions and Answers  email

   
Q: "wondering if I might get the name or the website of your kitchen       
management software"
A:
we never found a commercial product that did everything we wanted that wasn’t overly complicated, so in the end I just wrote a simple database in Microsoft Access that did everything we wanted and nothing else. The benefit of that is I can easily add or remove single features or fields if we want to do something new.. We have it printing shopping lists, menus etc. For the barcode scanner I got a cheap USB unit from dealextreme.com these are very simple to use and just enter a number in to the computer like a keyboard would.
   
Q: "Can you add some detail on how you implemented the active desktop user interface?"
A:
Active desktop was very easy to configure. I basically built a very simple webpage that was pretty much just a bunch of images hyperlinked to various applications. Active desktop is in XP in the desktop settings, its one or two steps to configure. It just asks for a webpage to display and in my case I pointed that to c:\gui\index.html where I had saved the html and images etc.
   
Q: "I was wondering if you would pass along your source for the elo touch screen, the only screens I can find are about $800 usdI was wondering if you would pass along your source for the elo touch screen, the only screens I can find are about $800 usd"
A:
If you look around you can definitely find cheap touch screens, you can find brand new 15” POS screens very cheap and also some brand name stuff on eBay like the HP 1730. I ordered mine as part of a large shipment of other products for a work job. 
   
Q: Why didn't you just buy a cheap or second tablet PC
A:
It came down to two reasons. 1. The quality of any tablet screen that I looked at didn't even come close to being as bright and clear as one of these kiosk screens. 2. I wanted a decent amount of processing power for a few background tasks. 
 
Q: Why don't you turn off the taskbar?
A:
I would love to, but I cant find an easy way to switch between
applications without it.  Its not easy or fast to ALT+TAB on a touch screen and as the GUI is on the desktop I also need a quick way to "show desktop" also.  still a work in progress...
   
Q: How thick is that monitor?
A:
its about 50mm at the widest. all the vents etc are careful designed to be on angled sides so you can mount it flat up against something.
   
Q: I'm surprised that it cost $2k for it though, seems you could probably do it much cheaper.
A:
You could do the same thing for the price of a $300 15" point of sale touch screen. But I needed a new computer to run some background stuff and also the windows 7 license was included in that pricing. 
   
Q: But in all honesty, I find a computer pretty useless without a keyboard. input for goggling recipes and making shopping lists would be annoying with just handwriting recognition.
A:
You would be amazed at how quickly you can pickup typing on an on screen keyboard, it was annoying for the first week but now its just another way of tying.  And Google auto suggests these days which is a real help for an interface like this.
   
Q: I would definitely move to Windows 7, add a webcam and speakers, and see how well speech control worked for launching programs. It would at least be nice to be able to pause and resume video, control audio, or launch programs by voice.
A:
Windows 7 : 50% Done (driver issues)
Webcam : DONE!!, Speakers : DONE!!

Speech control, that's an interesting concept that I didn't think of, will try this in the next month or do.
   
Q: Active Desktop is no longer in Windows 7, so I can see that causing some problems.
A:
You don't really need active desktop you could run that in a full screen browser also.  I'm working on a revision of the interface at the moment done in Adobe Flash CS4.
   
Q: Wait, that red LED fan pulls air from where? Did he drill holes behind it? Otherwise, having it flush up against the cupboard wall with nowhere to draw cool air from would be absolutely pointless.
A:
I brought that fan online and thought it was cheap because it was RED, when it arrived I realized that it was red because it was lit up with LEDs, its horrible.   And yeah there is a hole behind the fan into another cabinet.
   
Q: Personally I don't see the need to put an i5 processor and DDR3 memory into a kitchen PC but that's just me
A:
100% not necessary but I'm also using this PC to stream music, home automation, scheduled updates to websites, and a bunch of other stuff that I didn't show. + now I'm playing with voice recognition.
   
Q: Looks amazing, except for the hideous Windows XP taskbar. He should get 7 or at least auto hide the taskbar. Lucky wife though
A:
agreed, but if I auto hide the taskbar there is no way to get it to come back up again as you cant drag the touch screen mouse down off the screen.
   
Q: I also wanted to have usb ports all over the kitchen with usb temperature probes for cooking
A:
awesome idea, some of those 1 wire temperature sensors would be the go, give me an idea...
   
Q: What the story with the barcode scanner?
A:
We use the barcode scanner to scan stuff we are throwing away, that
way its automatically added to our next weeks shopping list.  We also have a folder of barcodes taken off common items, its much faster to scan a barcode than to write an item on a shopping list.
   
Q: What does Ryan do for a living? this requires some expertise
A:
Marketing... you don't need expertise for this project, its actually very simple. you just need to play around until you get something that does what you want.
   
Q: How does the weather station work?
A:
I have a bunch of wireless sensors sitting in the garden that transmit to a USB reciever thats plugged into the PC,  I use some sofware that automatically takes the weather data and updates another website, I also have webcam sitting with the sensors that takes a photo every 10 miniutes and uploads that to the same website.
   
Q: Why didn't you just put an Apple Tablet on the wall?
A:
Don't worry, as soon as they release that product I will put one in the bedroom or bathroom and blog about it.
   
Q: I find the placement a little awkward above a countertop on the wall. Just seems little far out of reach, but maybe using it in person I would feel different.
A:
It looks awkward in the photos but its really easy to use, in the kitchen this spends most of its time just displaying things, its not like a standard PC where you using this to do all your work.  we choose to put this in more of a "painting / picture frame" sort of location than a computer location as such.
   
Q: What software is he using for the touch screen interface? Is something like that standard with some versions of Windows?
A:
Its a standard ELO touch screen driver that came with the monitor, it just emulates a mouse so where ever you touch it puts the mouse pointer.
   
Q: Given that cooks tend to have messy fingers, perhaps a gesture interface may be a better option.
A:
These commercial touch screens are awesome, they are pretty much fully waterproof, so we just clean it down like the bench.
   
Q: Where did you get your icons for the home menu?
A:
These were quickly put together in Photoshop, there is heaps of tutorials online showing how to make iphone icons in Photoshop.
   
Q: I have one suggestion for your new Windows 7 build. Instead of using Outlook for your calendar and e-mail use Google's web apps. Both Google Calendar and Gmail would work perfectly in your setup if accessed through Google Chrome's "application shortcut" option. The
application shortcut option in Chrome allows any web app to look and act as if it were a native app on your touch screen (similar to an iPhone app). Chrome doesn't have to be your default browser, if you don't want it to be, it will just be used to access your web apps. Post an update as soon as you upgrade to Windows 7.
A: Fantastic tip here, I'm trying this tonight and will post an update.
   
Q: How is it going for you now that you've settled in?
A:
Settled in well, it’s a great idea we use this every day several times, even just for stuff like ordering pizza and looking up random stuff on the web when guests are around. Hard to believe they don't sell a unit like this you can just put in place of your microwave really.
 
Q: How is it going for you now that you've settled in?
A:
Settled in well, it’s a great idea we use this every day several times, even just for stuff like ordering pizza and looking up random stuff on the web when guests are around. Hard to believe they don't sell a unit like this you can just put in place of your microwave really.
 
Q: Are you going to make the iKitchen available to the public
A:
apple is about to release a tablet PC... I don't want to be the one who went to market with their new phone the week before the iphone was released.  But in saying that I do have a number of touchscreen monitors for sale currently.
   
Q: do you have to do all changes to the UI on the actual pc itself?
A:
No, I have tight VNC installed on this pc so I can use a remote desktop from a desktop or laptop to make any major changes etc.
   
Q: what do you use the tweet adder button for?
A:
If you use twitter for business or seriously for personal use then you need to checkout tweet adder, you can build thousands of followers in a very short time.   I highly recommend this product,  more info here
   
Q: Just saw your iKitchen and loved it. I saw you were looking at
improving it. While the on screen keyboard is nice.. its not what I
would consider the best option. I immediately thought of something that would be great for your situation.A Bluetooth LASER virtual Keyboard from thinkgeek.com I've seen it before and it would be great for your needs. Turn your countertop into a keyboard!
http://www.thinkgeek.com/computing/keyboards-mice/8193/
A:
wow that's a cool concept, I just checked and thinkgeeks shipping to new zealand is ridiculous, almost more than the product.  that's a shame as I would be really keen to review one of these. 


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Suggestions Emailed In

These are a couple of touch screen softwares used by a tablet PC from intel. Quicklauncher is only for WindowsXP but may function in Windows 7. And Blue Dolphin will work for either. I prefer Blue Dolphin because it has separation of sections called "places" with different icon sets. Both are fully customizable with multipage support. Currently Blue Dolphin seems to have an issue with Adobe Flash CS3, possibly other versions, and I haven't looked to far into why it has the issue. - Jeremy

For the standby problem with your touchscreen kitchen pc you could try the usb remote for the media center. the one i have (GP-IR02BK) works very well to put a pc into the standby as well as back to work (the only thing is that this is for vista and win7) and you have to make sure that your Mobo can power the USB in standby mode (for me it was configured in BIOS). - Adam

Maybe you should check out google's mobile applications, gmail calendar and google reader have mobile versions optimized for use on iphones and phones with touchscreens so they might work better on your screen too. - Jan

How about Rocket Dock? Did you think about that to replace the taskbar?
Either that or Litestep, a replacement for the taskbar would at least make it look a bit tidier.  I have litestep at the moment on my work latpop, it hides the windows taskbar and replaces it with a small slim one, dark themed, very slick. Might be an idea. - Simon

Thought of a suggestion that you could add to your kitchen touchscreen pc.....
How about an internal modem connected to your phone and have the computer be able to manage your calls? It could be an answer machine, phone book, allow handsfree etc. - Andy

I have seen a pc that wakes when you enter a room. I belive that it works using IR alarm sensor hacked onto a on old keyboard. - Colin

You mentioned keeping the taskbar because you couldn't find a better way to switch applications. There is an application called "Switcher" that lets you switch between running programs and the desktop by touching a corner of the screen.  http://insentient.net/Switcher/Overview.html  It works perfectly with my Windows 7 computer. - Adam

"how to bring windows out of "standby" with only a touch screen. "
The solution I currently have working is a hacked together small motion-detecting alarm and an old USB joystick. There's more elegant solutions, but all I did was solder on a LDR (light dependant resistor) between one of the button connections, and tape the LDR's light sensitive bit over the LED that lights up on the alarm when it detect motion.
So it works like this.
1. I walk 30cm near computer
2. Motion detector turns on, lighting LED
3. LDR changes resistance because it's taped to LED with duct tape
4. USB joystick detects change in resistance and send buttonDown event
5. Machine wakes up/stays awake because of (harmless) USB event
Only problem the little motion detecting alarm requires a 9V battery. Works surprisingly well, when the projects complete I'll be blogging about it. Hope that helps!  - Keith

Have you looked into running Windows Embedded Standard 2011 on the device? It's based on Win7 and is smaller in size... - Parag
 

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