The Internet of Things – creating a user guide for a fridge door

The Internet of Things (IoT) is, according to Wikipedia, the network of physical objects – devices, vehicles, buildings and other items – embedded with electronics, software, sensors, and network connectivity that enables these objects to collect and exchange data. The popular example is the concept of a smart fridge that could warn you when it was out of milk.

Yesterday, we spotted a tweet mentioning SeeNote, a digital version of the sticky notes people use around the house and office.

This got us wondering if it were possible to create a digital user guide that could be:

  • Stuck on the wall (or the fridge door)
  • Have a screen that was always on
  • Automatically update itself
  • Notify you when there was new information
  • Run without mains power for approximately a month between charges.

The SeeNote is a little too small for that purpose, so could another e-ink device, such as an ebook reader, be configured to work in this way?

Live web updates on a KindleWe fished out a basic £40 Kindle ebook reader from the cupboard, to see its the web browser could display real-time updates. The Kindle’s web browser is called an experimental browser for a reason – unfortunately, it crashed on the bbc.co.uk live updates of a football match. It was more resilient when it displayed the time from the liveclock.com website.

 

Sending emails to KindleAn article by Peter Voljek confirmed it is possible to use a Kindle to create an emailable messageboard (and therefore a digital user guide). His approach involves some server-side Ruby code for sending messages to the Kindle by email, which automatically displays the last message received. According to Hackaday.com, the Kindle side of the hack exploits some secret commands to disable the screensaver, then uses AJAX and JavaScript to automatically refresh the web page the email server is serving.

According to the-ebook-reader.com, Amazon has gone to great lengths to block any kind of hacking to the Kindle Voyage, the current entry-level Kindle and the Kindle Paperwhite 2.

Kindle as a digital noticeboardIf you have an older Kindle, another approach would be replace the wallpaper that appears when you turn on a Kindle. Pablo Jiménez Mateo as described how to display time, date, weather, and tasks as a Kindle wallpaper. Again, you need a computer to act as the server to generate a vector graphic, which is used as the Kindle screensaver.

 

Alternatively, you could explore using another brand of ebook reader.

Does anyone need this?

There were a few use cases we could think of. One was to have them on the door of meeting rooms, to provide information on room bookings, how to use the equipment in the room, and any contact numbers. Another was to place one next to machinery, providing information on how to use the equipment and the daily work schedule.

Of course, people could just use their smartphones instead, or you could put a QR code on the door. However, the digital user guide offers ambient findability – if you look, it’s there.

Summary

These changes are not without risk – you could potentially “brick” your Kindle and have to restore it to factory settings. However, it does seem possible to create a digital user guide that could be stuck onto your fridge door, meeting room door or office wall.

7 Comments

Antti

“Does anyone need this?” Oh yes! I would love to have a thin paperwhite E-ink calendar on my kitchen wall. The SeeNote shows exactly the kind of info that I’m looking for. Pity the device is so tiny. What was the largest epaper screen you came across while hacking this together? Anything bigger than the typical Kindle? Getting rid of the black device bevel would be bonus too, for maximum sleekness. 😉

Ellis Pratt

I think the largest have a 32″ diameter screen, with larger ones on the way. However, they are not aimed at the consumer market. For the consumer market, it would be 13.3″ diameter – the Sony Digital Paper DPT-S1, for example. Otherwise, you could see if you could get hold of a Kindle DX or an Onyx (9.7″/24.6 cm).

craig wright

With IoT devices, wouldn’t the documentation be embedded in the device? The few IoT devices I have seen seem to have some form of screen with software for analytics and monitoring built-in. I’d imagine documentation would be supplied there too. Either that or you are going to need an IoT hub that provides information about all IoT devices on the network?

Your meeting room example is a good one – made me think of ‘system’ documentation, where an organisation has a system made up of lots of IoT devices (I’m thinking of data centres, but could easily apply to other projects like water treatment works etc.). The individual devices may have their own integrated documentation, but there would be a need for system-wide user assistance. This could be provided on a kindle-type device, like you have described. It would certainly be better than having limited instruction sheets stuck on walls or rows of folders!

Ellis Pratt

Hi Craig. Yes, you’re right. It’s hard to describe this type of device. It is an Internet Of Things device, but different from an IOT enabled fridge. I’m not sure anyone has determined the right word for it.

craig wright

It kind of seems like an IoT hub/IoT dashboard, where it is presenting you with info taken from other IoT devices or a diary? From the screenshot in the tweet, it looks like it could present you with reminders from all IoT devices on your network.

Hmm…thinking about the reminders…get more milk, take an umbrella, don’t forget your lunch, you have a meeting at 10:00…welcome to the world of virtual nagging.

craig wright

Ah, well those are terms already being used in IoT tech in industry, so I expect they will filter down to consumer IoT products. There’s going to be a lot more data flying around, that’s for sure. Time will tell whether it is progress or leaves us all bogged down with information overload.

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