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Linux-enabled “smart fridge” invites hacker-created accessories

Jan 9, 2015 — by Eric Brown — 2,216 views

GE and FirstBuild announced a “ChillHub” fridge with Linux-based WiFi and USB connectivity, and an SDK for community-designed, 3D-printable accessories.

We’ve seen some high-tech refrigerators and washing machines over the years including a Tizen-based Samsung fridge that did not seem to make the trip to CES this year. As with Dacor’s Android-based Discovery iQ oven shown this week at CES, the high-tech functionality typically centers around touchscreen interfaces that make it easier to master the advanced settings found on the latest consumer electronics.

The ChillHub, which was designed by an open source FirstBuild developers community and is built by GE, is a different animal altogether. First, there’s no advanced touchscreen as of yet — you control it via an app that’s currently iOS only — and second, although it’s available to the public for $2,999, it’s more of a developer platform for refrigerator accessories than a consumer product.

The device is a collaboration between a FirstBuild development community and GE that launched last year. The ChillHub is billed as an “open development platform designed for makers, hackers, tinkerers and developers” who want to create new gizmos for refrigerators. The goal is actually a bit broader than that, as the announcement notes that ChillHub and FirstBuild expect to “enable the development of new hardware products that benefit from operating inside a cooled space.”

ChillHub fridge closed and opened, showing its two USB hubs
(click images to enlarge)

The refrigerator itself is fairly simple on the surface, at least compared to some of the feature-overloaded high-tech fridges that were demonstrated at CES. In this case, the major innovation is the inclusion of a Raspberry Pi Model B single-board computer running Linux.

Green Bean acts as a gateway between the Pi SBC and the fridge’s MCU
(click image to enlarge)

As indicated in the diagram above, a specially designed, open-source GE Green Bean circuit board serves as a gateway between the Pi SBC and various sensors and control functions that are under the direct supervision of the fridge’s low-level microcontroller (MCU).

Two views of the Green Bean interface module
(click images to enlarge)

The Raspberry Pi Model B’s dual USB ports are expanded to eight by means of a pair of four-port powered USB hubs (pictured below). An unspecified WiFi dongle gives the ChillHub fridge wireless connectivity, which enables remote monitoring and control via smartphones, tablets, and PCs, both locally and from anywhere with Internet access.

Closeup views of ChillHub’s upper (left) and lower USB hubs
(click images to enlarge)

Summary of ChillHub fridge features

Major features of the ChillHub fridge include:

  • Basic fridge features:
    • 27.7 cubic foot French door design
    • 2x icemakers
    • Full-width electronic temperature-controlled drawer with colored LED lights and 3x temperature settings
    • TwinChill evaporators for separate climates in fresh food and freezer sections
    • Showcase LED lighting throughout interior and under fresh food doors to spotlight foods inside
    • Ice and water dispenser
    • Available in black, white, slate, and stainless steel.
  • ChillHub “smart fridge” features:
    • Raspberry Pi Model B single-board computer, running Linux
    • 8x USB ports via 2x hubs with 5V, 4A, 20W power
    • 802.11n WiFi
    • Green Bean interface board for access to fridge sensors and control functions

ChillHub peripheral development

Based in Louisville, Kentucky, FirstBuild is itself a collaboration between GE and Local Motors workspace community for building 3D printed vehicles. The group not only develops software, but designs and builds sensor devices in its microfactory using MakerBot Replicators and other 3D printers.

Milky Weigh closeup view, and in the fridge
(click images to enlarge)

FirstBuild has already begun selling a “Milky Weigh” device that sits inside the ChillHub and weighs your milk jug so you can remotely check how much milk you have left. Developers can buy some 3D printed components directly from FirstBuild, and download printing instructions for others from Thingiverse, such as this recipe for the Milky Weigh. A Node.js and JavaScript SDK enables applications for iOS. There was no word on an Android port.

Quick Chill drink cooler design
(click image to enlarge)

Peripherals that are due soon include a Quick Chill container device that you plug into one of the ChillHub’s eight USB ports to quickly chill a bottom of wine. There’s also a Beer Bank dispenser that keeps track of which members of a household are drinking the most beer. (We can see how this could curb beer consumption in most households, although we can think of others where the opposite might be true.)

Beer Bank drink dispenser
(click image to enlarge)

According to a psfk story from CES, FirstBuild has received 55 proposals for peripheral designs, several of which have been prototyped, including the Milky Weigh, Beer Bank, and Quick Chill devices listed above. Other approved designs include an LED disinfecting light, a butter-softening tray, and an egg carton that doubles as an egg cooker.

“When the FirstBuild community started, in May 2014, community members were submitting ideas for new applications for home appliances,” stated Myles Caley, FirstBuild Software Community Manager. “It quickly became apparent that there was a lot of interest in new refrigerator features that require power, internet connectivity and the ability to communicate by sending commands and receiving information. ChillHub is the answer to these requests, designed by the community, for the community.”

The brief YouTube video below introduces FirstBuild’s open ChillHub development platform.

ChillHub development platform overview

In the YouTube video below, dated Dec. 14, 2014, a cross-functional team at FirstBuild reviews the status of ChillHub development.

ChillHub development status review at FirstBuild

Further information

The ChillHub is available now for $2,999 at FirstBuild. More information may be found on this FirstBuild ChillHub product page and GE’s ChillHub announcement. The original ChillHub project proposal can be found on here.

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0 responses to “Linux-enabled “smart fridge” invites hacker-created accessories”

  1. Nonya F. Bizzness says:

    This is just about the stupidest thing that I have ever heard! A refrigerator/freezer exists to keep food cold/frozen. Period! LED lighting and better temperature control would be nice. A USB or internet connection!? Wi-Fi!?!? Definitely not necessary, and not something that I would ever tolerate in pretty much any household appliance. I don’t give any info about myself or my personal habits to anyone, and never will! And I will not tolerate devices in my home that try to do so. If at some point I have no choice but to buy any of these so called “smart” appliences, all capabilities of them to connect to the internet will be physically disabled.

    The best thing that we can do is to NOT BUY things that have the capability to spy on us! If we keep letting our privacy be eroded and outright stolen, then we deserve the result: A police state that micromanages every aspect of our lives. George Orwell’s 1984 is here! Now!!

    • Max says:

      Exactly. And how much beer I drink is nobody’s business, including everyone in the household – especially those in the household.

  2. Mike says:

    WTF iPhone only? For an OPEN project? Are these people on crack? It’s a great idea, but seriously … This is ridiculous!

  3. Warren says:

    A feature to detect spills and clean them.

  4. D.Chapman says:

    sudo apt-get update && sudo apt-get Beer

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