Living Interfaces: The Impatient Toaster

Living Interfaces: The Impatient Toaster
Proceedings of the Third International Conference on Tangible and Embedded Interaction (TEI'09), Feb 16-18 2009, Cambridge, UK
Living Interfaces: The Impatient Toaster
Eva Burneleit
Potsdam University of
Applied Sciences
Pappelallee 8-9
14469 Potsdam, Germany
Fabian Hemmert
Deutsche Telekom
Ernst-Reuter-Platz 7
10587 Berlin, Germany
Reto Wettach
Potsdam University of
Applied Sciences
Pappelallee 8-9
14469 Potsdam, Germany
This paper introduces the Impatient Toaster, a kitchen
appliance designed to motivate its owners to eat more
often and in regular intervals: After not using it for a
while, it signalizes hunger through nervous movements.
This project sought to explore life-like behaviour as a
means of increasing user’s sympathy for everyday objects. We present a prototype that was informally tested
with six participants in a situated user test. The results
indicate that sympathy and perceived cuteness can arise
from life-like movements that, as we propose, represent
an object’s will of its own. This work is part of a larger
series of experiments in the Living Interfaces project, exploring ways in which reduced life-like movements can
be beneficial for Human-Machine Interaction.
The Impatient Toaster has been created as a trial to provide a lively impression to an everyday life object by using vital and unpredictable manners. Utilizing the Impatient Toaster, it was sought to explore the acceptance of
domestic appliances with character of their own. Computers play a predominant role in our lives. Especially students spend a great portion of their time sitting at the PC.
One may tend to forget one’s environment (especially
when in a state of Flow) [1], and sometimes even the intake of food [2]. As research indicates, humans tend to
like what is similar to themselves [3] – this is especially
true for anything that appeals as cute, which may ultimately be reasoned in a protective instinct: Pets, often
cats and dogs, are appointed in therapy for old and disabled people [4], and also pets in the household have a
positive symbiotic influence. According to a recent study,
owners of pets have to see a doctor more rarely [5]. This
project seeks a novel way of motivating the user to eat
regularly: Through cuteness and sympathy. It was also of
our interest how such could be used as a basis of interaction in other areas, as well.
Categories and Subject Descriptors
H.5.2 [User Interfaces]: Haptic I/O, Prototyping
General Terms
Design, Human Factors
Interface Design, Living Interfaces, Emotional Interaction, Kitchen Appliance
Donald Norman [6] pointed out that sooner or later machines will be equipped with emotions – for better interaction, cooperation and learning:
How shall my toaster ever learn in which way I
like my toast if he isn’t able to be proud of his
In the recent years, different projects have followed this
vision. For instance, the (In)Security Camera [7] is a shy
surveillance camera that avoids eye contact, and was designed as a statement of social criticism (rather than a
exploration of affective HCI). Nabaztag [8] gives information about weather, stock market, air quality, road traffic, email, etc. in various ways, including (ear) posture,
light and sound – as opposed to the appliance proposed in
this paper that relies only on non-verbal communication
and reduced functionality. Furthermore, Luxalive [9]
should be mentioned, a reading lamp that moves in relation to the users personality and mood.
Figure 1. The Impatient Toaster,
waggling excitedly to alert its user
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TEI 2009, February 16–18, 2009, Cambridge, UK.
Copyright 2009 ACM 978-1-60558-493-5/09/02 ...$5.00.
The Impatient Toaster has no handles or buttons, all interaction with it is strictly based on verbal and gesture-based
Proceedings of the Third International Conference on Tangible and Embedded Interaction (TEI'09), Feb 16-18 2009, Cambridge, UK
away), it started to waggle again excitedly. Interestingly,
all test subjects turned towards it and started to talk to it
and touched it again, and also verbally tried to calm it
down. After the simulated toasting, one subject actually
said ’Thank you!’ to the toaster. One person tried to put
more and more bread into the slot. Another subject reportedly felt a bit scary in the first instance, having to
build up trust first. Most participants found the toaster
’very cute‘, stating he was ‘proud’ of his work. They enjoyed interacting with it.
negotiation. According to the use-case of a computer user
that forgets to eat, the Impatient Toaster gets restless after
a time of inactivity and begins to shake nervously. Once
fed, it calms down and the toast is transported downwards; the toaster is then satisfied. Subtle movements
during the toasting period signalize activity. Once the
toasting has ended, the retaining jig moves up and the
toaster becomes excited again. As soon as the user takes
the bread out of the slot, the appliance calms down satisfied. It is also possible to calm down the toaster by patting
it for a while. We customized a toaster according to our
needs by augmenting it with an Arduino microcontroller
board [10] and two servo motors on both sides under the
encasement. The hand gear and all buttons were removed
and the holes were closed. The retaining jig was motorized. As of safety concerns, the heat mechanism was removed and only simulated with red LEDs. This prototype
was remote-controlled by potentiometers and buttons in a
Wizard-of-Oz-style setup.
By building the prototype and arranging a user-test in a
real life scenario we found out that it is possible to give a
kitchen appliance a character of its own by simulating
life-like behaviour. The user test has shown that humanlike attitudes foster emotional engagement between the
object and its user. Judging from the toaster’s movements,
all users understood that the toaster ‘wanted’ something.
In terms of functionality, it is important to add a working
‘slot in/out’ mechanism and enable the device to actually
toast bread. It needs to be determined how the Impatient
Toaster can be appropriately calmed down, as, for instance, to deny a proposed meal. Also, effects of longterm usage are still unexplored. Additional emotional
states of the device could be explored, such as greed, satisfaction and happiness; we encourage more research in
the field of emotionally augmented household devices.
In this initial evaluation, we focused on observing the
interaction between user and toaster as for the impatient
behaviour, actual toasting and automatic ‘slot-in’ were not
implemented. In a normal kitchen, the device was placed
beside other kitchen appliances. An opened bag with
bread was placed nearby. The test subjects were asked to
enter the kitchen and answer a questionnaire. They were
left alone to anwer the questions with the indication that
the test about the toaster would be started later. As the
subjects filled out the questionnaire, the toaster was activated, while the subjects were secretly filmed. After interacting with the appliance for a couple of minutes, an interview was conducted.
Our thanks to Elisabeth Eichhorn, Miriam Roy, Carola
Burneleit, Tobias Friese, all subjects and all classmates.
1. M. Csikszentmihalyi, ‘Flow: Das Geheimnis des
Glücks’. Klett-Cotta (2007).
2. J. Wlachojiannis, ‘Die Wahrheit über die Computersucht’. Welt Online Release 7/2008.
3. J. H. Otto, H. A. Euler, H. Mandl, ‘Emotionspsychologie, Ein Handbuch’. BELTZ Psychologie Verlags
Union Weinheim (2000).
4. E. and L. Hegebusch, ‘Tiergestützte Therapie bei Demenz“. Verlag Schlütersche (2007).
5. Deutsches Institut für Wirtschaftsforschung Berlin,
‘Tierhalter müssen seltener zum Arzt’. Study (2007).
Figure 2. User Test: Participants touching
the appliance to calm it down.
6. W. Stieler, ‘Liebe Deine Maschine’. Technology Review Release 03/2008.
The prototype was informally tested by six persons aged
between 25 and 40 (4f, 2m). Four of them knew the concept before, but nobody was informed that the test would
already start while they answered the questionnaire; all of
them were obviously surprised as the toaster began to
move. Their reactions were similar: First they were
alarmed, then they began to laugh. Every participant
stopped writing and came closer to the toaster, touched it
and began talking to it (‘What’s up?’, ‘What’s the matter?’, ‘What do you want?’). A short while after feeding
the toaster (which most of the subjects did intuitively right
7. S. Ruzanka, B. C. and D. Strakovsky, (in)security
camera. Available at:;
8. Violet, Nabaztag. Available at:
9. R. Zoontjes, Luxalive. Available at:
10. Arduino Physical Computing Platform. Available at:
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