Electronics

Meet Green Bean, a module for hacking into appliances

Green Bean connects to GE appliances
Green Bean connects to GE appliances
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Green Bean connects to GE appliances
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Green Bean connects to GE appliances
Green Bean connects to GE appliances
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Green Bean connects to GE appliances
Green Bean comes out of FirstBuild, GE's open innovation and co-creation platform
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Green Bean comes out of FirstBuild, GE's open innovation and co-creation platform
Bottom view of Green Bean
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Bottom view of Green Bean
The "Chill Hub"
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The "Chill Hub"
A Green Bean-controlled chilled compartment
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A Green Bean-controlled chilled compartment
Green Bean can deliver notifications to Android Wear via custom apps
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Green Bean can deliver notifications to Android Wear via custom apps

What if your dryer could send a notification that would buzz your phone or smartwatch to let you know your laundry is done? Well, it may be easier to tap into the brains of your appliances than you might think, with the US$20 open-source Green Bean module announced today by GE at MakerCon in New York.

If you aren't keeping track, 20 bucks is a lot cheaper than shelling out thousands for the latest set of smart appliances.

Green Bean comes out of FirstBuild, GE's open innovation and co-creation platform that's attached to a microfactory in Louisville, Kentucky. In non-hacker terms, the Green Bean is a small module that provides the ability to be able to control things like your oven's heating elements or fans, or the sensors in your refrigerator.

"Ideas are only the starting point," said FirstBuild's Taylor Dawson. "By giving anyone and everyone a direct path into the brain of our home appliances, we are endowing them with the ability to reprogram and reimagine the way that their appliances could work. Green Bean is limited only by your creativity and programming skills."

Green Bean's javascript-based SDK is available on github, and allows hackers to create apps that connect appliances to everything from smartphones to a Raspberry Pi. While it's not for average consumers without programming knowledge (Green Bean is open source), the FirstBuild community is already creating and sharing some interesting appliance mods and developing new hardware to take advantage of it.

The "Chill Hub"
The "Chill Hub"

Just for starters, there's the aforementioned laundry notification app that's compatible with Android Wear, or a camera mounted to the fridge door that snaps a quick photo of what you're currently stocked up on and uploads it to a chosen device. Other mods include the ability to control the temperature of particular wines or even defrost meat using a custom "chill hub" – essentially a USB hub that connects to added compartments, which can be individually heated or cooled within the appliance and controlled via the Green Bean.

The Green Bean module retails for $19.95 and is available through FirstBuild.com.

Source: GE

Green Bean - Smart Watch

5 comments
Mel Tisdale
This could be nicely combined with Stanford University's 'radio-on-a-chip' device featured in these columns recently. I imagine that if Green Bean doesn't have any competitors at present, it soon will have. That being the case, It would be nice if they all worked to the same standard. That way appliance manufacturers could build in compatibility with the all such devices. Moving on from there, appliance manufacturers could build in a usb port so that the appliance could be programmed using one's computer and then the new routine transferred to it via a memory stick, if not via the Ethernet. One of the first things I would look for when buying a new appliance would be a row of function keys that I could programme with my requirements. It goes without saying that provision of a screen to display either one's specific instructions, or possibly those of the whole machine including any new ones, would be almost essential. Build onto the above an online library (maintained by the individual appliance manufacturers) to hold any new routines, in a similar way that Arduino does, and let the fun begin. Buying a new appliance will be a whole new experience for a great many technically minded people. (I imagine that in many cases it will be the children of the household that lead the way, as they are reputed to with video recorders.) One caveat: I think these newfound abilities place an obligation on appliance manufactures to ensure that their devices are fool proof. It would be a bit sad if someone proudly programmed their washing machine, say, only to find their laundry room flooded because the water-level control had been mistakenly overridden.
Captain Danger
Mel "I think these newfound abilities place an obligation on appliance manufactures to ensure that their devices are fool proof." With great power comes great responsibility. Once you start hacking your appliances the responsibility is yours and the warranty is void.
pspasov
Interesting point about accidentally flooding the basement. Providing this tool for interested hobbyists is a great step forward. Yet, I wonder how many of the rest of the public will bother. The article doesn't go into how one would interface with the I/O the different appliances. That will probably cost more than the $20 of the module. It will take a cadre of hackers (hopefully white hat) to figure this out initially. Maybe from this base, it might roll out to a wider group of consumers until the next disruptive thing comes along. When does this stop?
GScott
Brilliant idea! Finally - maybe using an app that will notify us if the oven or stove have been turned on (for anyone with family members that are cognitive-impaired)! Or for the rest of us - being reminded that the burners are on. How about one that connects to a sensor for the water heater or dishwasher or washing machine, telling us that moisture is accumulating on the bottom of the tank outside, notifying us by our favorite communication device (phone, email, twitter etc.). A universal simple system - the device, the trigger / activity; the real time notification, and the flexibility to send the notification to a device of our own choosing. Just saying --- as a non-tech user!!!!!
Taylor Alexander
I love the Green Bean! I got to see it in action at the NY Maker Faire last week. Such a cool product... The things FirstBuild is doing is all pretty cool.