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Twelve of the most innovative ideas to come from the University community in the past year


Published September 8, 2010

What if you had the ability to come home after a long day of class and command your kitchen appliances to prepare your favorite meal? Or have your radio automatically play your favorite songs? This could one day be commonplace in households around the world with technology developed by John Marshall, assistant professor at the School of Art and Design and the Taubman College of Architecture and Urban Planning.

Marshall’s creation, Tea House for Robots (THR_33), consists of a group of three robotically designed hybrids that are a mix of common household appliances and motor vehicles, each with specific behaviors. These include TST_003 (a toaster), RDO_002 (a radio) and MXR_011 (a stand mixer).

To showcase the technology, Marshall displays the three robots in a 9’ x 9’ x 6’ Japanese-style tea house made out of layers of laser-cut synthetic paper that are sewn together. This house provides the means for humans to interact with the robots, through a program called the OMRON Smile Scan, a face detecting technology connected with the tea house in the form of “eyes.”

By compiling data on facial properties from about a million people over 10 years, the program is capable of measuring the degree of someone’s smile from 0% to 100%. When a person grins into a camera outside of the house, it consequently determines how wide the tea house “eyes” open.

If the person smiles largely enough to cause the tea house “eyes” to open wide, they allow a direct line of vision between themselves and the robots. This allows the robot to “see” the person, activating the robot’s infrared sensors.

When the toaster robot “sees” someone, it becomes illuminated from the inside and starts its toasting cycle, extending its toasting arms forward to await slices of bread. The radio begins to play sounds, and the mixer begins to spin away from the human and begin mixing.

This revolutionary idea for interactive appliances could extend beyond the realm of Marshall’s Japanese tea house. The notion of smart appliances could extend to nearly anything around the modern home, making it possible for appliances such as washing machines to run on command and immediately know what type of wash it should begin, or lights to turn on to specific preferential settings. Ultimately, it could mean a whole new way of living.


Every Westin Hotel around the world, from New York to New Delhi, smells exactly the same.

But the hotel chain’s signature scent — White Tea by Westin — not only provides a fragrant welcome, but also acts as a subconscious marketing ploy.

Marketing Prof. Aradhna Krishna’s research in the burgeoning field of multisensory marketing shows that this specific type of advertising specifically targets peoples subconscious and may be more effective than traditional forms of marketing.

“What sensory marketing does is it affects people in a more subconscious matter," Krishna said. "For instance, I’ve done research on smell. I've shown that if a product has a very unique smell, than memory for other aspects of the product increases.”

Krishna has conducted numerous studies on different aspects of multisensory marketing, but, specifically, a study completed in November 2009 found that scented products help individuals better remember details about a product.

“Smell has really strong associations with memory,” Krishna said. “Among all the senses smell has a more direct connection with good memory. So, if other aspects of information get stored along with smell, than the likelihood of (retaining that information) is also higher.”

Krishna said the study she and her fellow researchers conducted was “painstaking." The researchers asked about 150 college students to study a brand-name pencil, as well as an itemized list of 10 features of the pencil. Some of the pencils given to students were normal, scentless pencils while others were doused in a scented oil.