iamdanw / made / DisplayCabinet

A calm data visualisation tool for the home

About DisplayCabinet

DisplayCabinet makes data available in the home in a calm, clear manner. Drop items onto a circle of light on a side table and see any relevant information spill out of it.

It is the result of a 24 hour collaboration with Ben Bashford (interaction & graphic design) and Tim Burrell-Saward (interaction & graphic design) at Pachube's Internet of Things Hackathon.

What does it do?

The DisplayCabinet presents itself as a glowing ring on a side table. Placing items in the ring pops out relevant information about them. We started with keys and a wallet as it is typical to store these on a side table and doesn't involve changing the users normal behaviour.


Keys represent the home, showing bandwidth allowance, energy usage and costs and outside weather forecast. It also displays any important messages such as faults and todo's, in this case alerting to a problem with the fridge. Importantly these alerts are ignorable. They don't chase you around the rest of the house. There are no growl alerts, no beeping noises and the fridge doesn't post a passive aggressive tweet.

DisplayCabinet (Yes - Internet Fridge)

No Internet of Things project is complete without an internet connected fridge. A miniature fridge lets us find out more about that "check fridge" message the keys gave. We can see from the energy consumption that the fridge is faulty. The "sausages going off" comes from an Ocado online shopping receipt with the sell by date on it. Using these services a normal fridge can be connected to the internet without buying a special internet fridge, decoupling the faster changing technology from the more infrequently replaced household appliance.


As well as household objects we can find out about our housemates and family. A totem representing a person reveals their last known location and a stream of status updates from twitter or facebook.


There are transport icons for when you are about to leave the home. A bus brings up departure times and destinations for nearby bus stops to let you choose which stop to go to and when to leave to spend the least time waiting in the rain. For the tube network live departures are less important as trains leave frequently. Instead we show the current status of the network, particularly useful for avoiding weekend closures.

How does it work?

The system is concealed in a wall mounted cabinet above the table (hence the name handily thought up by McEwen). A pico projector projects the image down onto the table through a small opening in the cabinet. The projected image uses a black background to make the outline of the projected area ambiguous, helping avoid the traditional 'glowing rectangle' of computer screens.

The cabinet doubles as storage shelves for the small ornaments used to represent the available information. For ornamental objects we used a mixture of wooden toys from Muji (although not quite mujicomp) and miniatures quickly crafted by Tim.


To identify the items they are embedded with RFID tags. An USB RFID reader under the table identifies the item and passes its ID number to a javascript app in a web browser using Seriality. Javascript changes screens and animates based on the changing IDs.

In this version we are using static data but for all the screens designed we know that the data is available to implement with later. The focus was on the behaviour and the utility. As Leila Johnston says:

"Making stuff is too easy. It really is. It’s easy to make anything these days, so people do, so loads of things get made, and their creators are delighted with the results, even though they’re rubbish, just because they made them..."

The data required is available and fetching it to display would be easy, if a little time consuming. Instead we focused on the hard bit, implementing the behaviour and the utility, working out how to represent the data in a calm and unobtrusive manner.


Building and testing has revealed a number of implementation details to overcome. A cabinet may be an awkward form factor as we would need to conceal cables running up the wall and it may be difficult to install in rental properties where drilling into the wall is forbidden (our prototype used string instead). Being a single item of furniture means it requires no infrastructural changes to the home and can be easily removed or updated, sitting in the Stuff shearing layer of the building.

Ideally the RFID reader can be eliminated and replaced with image recognition. This would also allow the projector to occlude the object from the projected image, preventing lighting up the items with a warped image.

Hopefully this hardware sketch shows a possible desirable calm tool that can be invited into the home

To learn more read Tim's writeup, Bashford's writeup or view his set of images on flickr.