SmartCup – an innovative kitchen appliance with IoT functionality and a mobile application. The device Incorporates a range of inventions and a patented cooling technology - all designed from scratch in EnCata. The SmartCup brews coffee, tea and makes baby formula.
Consumer & Wearable
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A startup from Europe came to EnCata with the idea of improving the lives of millions of parents who prepare baby formula and want to precisely control the boiled water temperature.
At the same time, the intention was to develop a multifunctional design to also satisfy coffee and tea lovers who seek to control their hot beverage infusion during the brewing process.
Getting the temperature just right for hot drinks is very difficult, often resulting in either a burnt tongue or a dissatisfying cold cup of coffee or tea. Also, different types of drinks require different brewing temperatures for optimal results.
Making the perfect cup of tea requires strict compliance with temperature and brew timing. For instance, black (red) tea is brewed at a temperature of 95° C for 3-5 minutes, green tea is 71-85° C for 1-2 minutes, Oolong tea is 85-95° C for 3-5 minutes. Properly brewed tea has a greater taste and possesses more nutrients so it was barely impossible for a consumer to achieve the proper temperature.
This translated into the engineering and design challenge: the device has to quickly heat the water and maintain the precise temperature for each corresponding beverage for the required amount of time. In addition, the SmartCup needs to rapidly cool the liquid from approximately 100 deg. C to 38 deg. C within 1-2 minutes. This is particularly important for baby formula.
PCB electronics development
IC electronics development
Firmware (embedded software) development
Mobile application development
Mechanical and CAD design
Design for manufacturability (DFM)
Custom compressor design
Bluetooth low energy (BLE)
C++ / C#
Custom inductive heater
EnCata offers comprehensive hardware and IoT product development services at a fraction of the cost
• R&D + design + manufacturing under ONE roof • Scale up and down your team • Intergrated hardware + software development • New technologies and research
Starting with just the idea, EnCata launched a product definition and feasibility study in order to gather all use-cases and develop a specification for the future product. It was additionally suggested to enable IoT functionality and pair the future device with a mobile app so it could be controlled remotely.
We additionally proposed a new business model, which provides the in-app purchase of baby formula, tea, and coffee. This direct-to-consumer (D2C) business model allows hardware companies to gain a new revenue stream.
With the kitchen appliances and consumer products market commoditized and the LTV (lifetime value) for the customers becoming smaller in the past decade, traditional business models for hardware companies do not work. Enabling the D2C (direct to consumers) business models of mobile apps for IoT devices is a great solution for hardware businesses. In this particular case, the mobile application enables the online purchase of branded teas, coffee and baby formula, which provides a source of recurring cash flow. This significantly increases the LTV of the IoT device.
The major challenge in concept development was to enable the SmartCup to quickly cool water. For that, we employed TRIZ/TIPS analysis and developed a range of potential engineering solutions. By making various engineering calculations for each of the proposed technical concepts, we identified that air sparging is the best technology to quickly cool the hot boiled water. A few mockups were developed around this idea, to validate the cooling subsystem and provide the expected cooling rate.
At this stage, it was confirmed that The SmartCup consists of
a base with a tray, enclosing the electronic and heating elements,
a mug with a ferromagnetic plate at the bottom,
sparging / cooling module,
a small basket on top of the mug to load servings of tea/coffee or baby formula.
R&D Engineering development.
The engineering development started from electronics, which comprised low-and high-voltage circuits. To enable the SmartCup functionality, it required that 5 different PCB boards were designed. This led to an array of patented inventions and innovations.
The custom IC design of the high-voltage circuit turned out to be quite sophisticated. The power management board was engineered to convert and transfer the electromotive force (EMF) induced in the induction coil to the electronics (control/communication board and charging the internal battery).
The induction coil assembly provides heating of the ferromagnetic (steel) plate at the base of the device, as well as the induction of voltage in the coil located in the lower part of the circle. Utilizing induction heating allows the SmartCup device to rapidly heat water to a boiling temperature and subsequently maintain the desired temperature of the brew. It was required to install a fan in order to cool the power management board and induction coil.
The power circuit also gained a small lithium Ion battery (to power an air compressor and a valve). The battery powers the control and communication board when there is no voltage induced in the coil.
The control PCB board is powered by the power board. The PCB has 2 wireless components: a Bluetooth Low Energy (for communication with a mobile device or other smart house systems) and a radio channel transmitter/receiver (to communicate with the entire circuit).
The design was developed concurrently with electronics and the industrial designers produced a range of demonstrator mock-ups from paper and other basic materials to test the user experience.
The base station gained a tray, which can be extended to put a cup on it when it needs to be removed from the brewing position. The tray itself is not an innovation, but this allows us to enhance the UX of the device as everyone knows the ‘problem’ when there is nowhere to put a used tea bag or a wet basket full of wet tea leaves.
The base station ‘talks’ to the cup at 2.5 GHz radio frequency (realized with Nordic Semiconductor nRF24L01 Single Chip Transceiver).
The teapot basket serves to load a portion of tea, coffee, or baby food from which the drink can be made. The teapot basket design also serves the need to regularly and conveniently disinfect and clean the system, preventing the build-up of microbes and bacteria residue from baby formula preparation.
The sparging module provides air via a small compressor that cools the drink. This design is highly reliable and reduces the overall complexity of the device, favorably decreasing the BOM (bill of materials) cost. The compressor, battery, valve, and power control board were positioned in the sparging unit.
The valve, guided by the commands of the control and communication board, provides the necessary conditions for storage and extraction: it fills the teapot with water (drink).
The 0.5 L cup is made of tempered glass and is able to prepare a drink volume up to 420 ml. The bottom of the cup contains the coil and the steel plate. The coil is located around the perimeter at the bottom of the cup and aids energy transfer from the coil at the base of the SmarCup device. The steel plate is the actual water (drink) heater, receiving energy from the coil.
There were many iterations of the glass cup shape in the DVT (design validation tests).
The mobile app
The device and cooking processes are controlled using the developed mobile application. The cloud hosts an extensive database of manufacturers of tea, coffee, herbal preparations and baby formula with recommendations for making drinks or baby formula.
The cross-platform mobile application development started when the firmware API was developed, i.e. during the EVT phase.
Results and Benefits
The SmartCup project was an ‘end-to-end’ product development for EnCata, bringing the client from the idea phase, through a proof-of-concept prototype to a validated product. The project was complex both from the industrial design/UX/UI and from the R&D perspective.
Upon finishing the design and engineering work (completing the DVT phase), the startup team went on Kickstarter and presented their project to early backers.
minutes on average required to cool the just-boiled water from 100 deg C to 38 deg. C
patents were filed out of EnCata’s product development work