Tag Archives: FirstBuild

The Opal is a countertop nugget ice maker for your home

A new ice age is upon us! The Opal lets you create a pound of crunchy nugget ice in an hour, right from home.

Contrary to what you may believe, ice is no longer just for chilling drinks, preserving meats and treating sprains. In areas like the South, it’s become a munchable snack for extremely hot summer days. Called nugget ice, this particular form of frozen H2O is soft and easy to chew, however outside of chain restaurants like Sonic and your local convenience store, it’s hard to come by. That was until now, at least.


FirstBuild — a co-creation space founded by GE and Local Motors — will let you satisfy your nugget cravings from right inside your own home with an affordable countertop maker. And while similar machines may already be on the market today, their price tag keeps them out of reach from most everyday consumers who aren’t looking to shell out upwards of two to three thousand dollars. Instead, Opal can soon be yours for a mere fraction of the cost ($499).

Having had the chance to see it firsthand at Maker Faire Bay Area, Opal boasts a sleek, aesthetically-pleasing design that will surely match the decor of any kitchen. The stainless steel device plugs into an electrical outlet and holds three pounds of ice, which is about as much as a typical refrigerator. Opal produces its first nuggets in 15 minutes, and can create a pound of ice each hour. The unit, which measures 16.5” x 10.5” x 14”, includes a crystal-clear, removable bin that easily slides out and tilts forward for access to the ice, as well as a capacitive touch interface for control. And you know what makes it even cooler (no pun intended)? It has an Arduino Micro (ATmega32U4) driving its indicator light!


What’s more, the Opal can be plugged into any standard 120V outlet and doesn’t require a dedicated water line to operate. The machine works by packing together small ice crystals, forming nuggets of soft yet crunchy ice. Not only do they cool down beverages like your coffee or soda faster than conventional cubes, the air pockets in each nugget absorb the flavor of the drink as it drops in temp, leaving a chewable and tasty refreshment for those who enjoy snacking on the ice when the liquid is gone.

For those unfamiliar with the community, FirstBuild is a new model of manufacturing that challenges Makers from around the world to dream up home appliance innovations. Earlier this year, Atmel had the opportunity to sponsor its inaugural 33-hour mega hackathon that brought together more than 200 DIYers, designers and engineers at its microfactory in Louisville to mod and build sci-fi-like equipment for the smart house of tomorrow. Evident by the sheer volume of ingenuity from that weekend, the crowdsourced design of Opal is just the beginning of real IoT applications generated by the Maker community.


Want one for your kitchen? The wait is almost over, as Opal made its debut on Indiegogo on July 28th — a date that also marked the one-year anniversary of FirstBuild. Keep in mind, this isn’t the co-creation community’s first crowdfunding effort either. Back in January, the team garnered over $316,000 for its Paragon Induction Cooktop, and the nugget ice maker has well surpassed its sibling’s success. The Opal ranks ninth on Indiegogo’s top 10 list of campaigns that have raised the most funds in 24 hours, and the 13th fastest to reach the half million dollar mark.

The initial batch of units is expected to begin shipping in July 2016 — right in time to help keep cool next summer!

This fridge magnet makes movie suggestions based on your snacking habits

Can’t decide what to watch? Let Chilflix choose for you! 

Have you ever found yourself wide awake and in the mood for a late-night snack/movie-sesh? However, after sifting through countless titles, still can’t decide what to eat or watch? Now, imagine your fridge being able to use your behavior to make suggestions: a burger to complement Harold and Kumar or a slice of pizza for Dude, Where’s My Car? As silly as it sounds, that may soon be a reality thanks to one group of Makers and their recent GE Firstbuild hackathon “Think Inside the Icebox” project.


Chilflix — Netflix + Chillhub, get it? — is a fridge magnet that recommends flicks based on the moment at which you’re snacking. The device can’t tell exactly what it is that you’re feasting on, but instead uses time as the determinant for which movie best suit the mood. For instance, Chilflix will offer up a comedy and drama between the hours of midnight and 4am, while dishing out a science fiction or horror film from 5am to 8am.


How it works is pretty simple: A light sensor sits inside GE’s new Wi-Fi-enabled Chillhub collecting data from the opening and closing of the door, and wirelessly communicates with an Arduino embedded inside the Chilflix to display the movie title on an LED panel — driven by another Arduino. Since Netflix shut down its API, the team used themoviedb.org in order to supply the recommendations.


Until Chilflix comes to your fridge, it looks like you’ll have to continue scrolling through Netflix and buying movies the old-fashioned way. In the meantime, check out the project’s FirstBuild page here.

[h/t PSFK]

A look back at FirstBuild’s Hack the Home

Home is where the hack is!

Are you ready for the smart home of the future? Well, FirstBuild certainly is. The collaborative partnership between GE Appliances and Local Motors just held their first mega-hackathon, aptly dubbed “Hack the Home,” which called upon Makers, engineers, designers and techies to dream up tomorrow’s sci-fi-like household appliances.


Sponsored by several of today’s leading tech companies (including Atmel), participants had the opportunity to utilize the FirstBuild microfactory’s assortment of tools, ranging from 3D printers and laser cutters to soldering stations and drill presses, as they devised their IoT projects for a chance at a slew of cash prizes. Throw in a few Red Bulls, a couple slices of pizza, easy-to-use hardware (like the ATmega328P) and a little ingenuity, and you sure do get some smart ideas!

“We are excited to open our state-of-the-art microfactory to Makers to ideate and take advantage of our advanced manufacturing facility,” explained Natarajan Venkatakrishnan, Director of FirstBuild. “The ingenuity generated by these teams was outstanding and illustrates how ideas can come from anywhere. We opened our facility to the Maker community and in a day they created innovations that can impact appliances of tomorrow.”

So without further ado, here’s a look at several innovative submissions from the 36-hour event. Three entrants emerged as winners based on their potential commercial use. You can vote for your favorites here!

The House Roast (First Place)


This grand prize-winning project brings the high-level precision of roasting coffee to the masses using a conventional GE oven and Arduino-driven heating control over the web or an app interface.

Fix of Water (Second Place)


This runner-up hack enables you to control your kitchen light and GE fridge’s water dispenser through voice commands from your mobile device.

CrockWatch (Third Place)


This smart crockpot allows you to remotely monitor your food via camera, check the temperature, and control its power settings.



This sensor pad measures fill levels of common items in your fridge, such as milk, beer and soda, and notifies you through its accompanying app.

Aut-o-matic Fridge Friend


This fridge hack makes it easier to stow away groceries or the enormous crystal punch bowl that you just can never seem to find a place for. With the touch of a button, a motor silently opens the fridge door to grant you access. Another touch and the door securely closes



This retrofitted cabinet brings a smart greenhouse right inside your house.



This shelf modification solution for refrigerator, pantries and toolboxes gives you the ability to intelligently track items, reorder consumables and analyze inventory usage.



This 3D-printed component snaps onto a standard box of baking soda and plugs into a ChillHub. A low-power fan then forces air past the baking soda, removing any unpleasant fridge smells as it is pushed out the other side.

Stove Whistler


This notification system will offer you a reminder if and when your stove has been left unattended.

That’s My Beer


These lockable refrigerator drawers, which can be opened using an app or NFC technology, let you keep your roommates (or yourself) away from the beer stash. For families, a parent can control the snack drawer and open at their discretion.

Shelf Control


This retrofitted shelf slips into your existing refrigerator and will unlock based on whether you have met your fitness needs for the day. The lock will interface with a FitBit-like device to determine whether that health goal has been achieved.

Perfect Pasta


This automation system makes it so that you simply place a pot full of tap water onto the stove, suspend the pasta colander over the pot, enter the desired preparation time, and allow it to cook itself. A phone notification will then let you know when it’s dinner time.

And of course, there was plenty of fun to be had and memories to be made along the way.





Finally, what would the home of the future be without a tricked-out DeLorean in its garage? Kudos to our friends at Hackster.io!


FirstBuild’s sous-vide device will help you become a master chef

Sous smart!

Who remembers the Disney Channel hit Smart House? For those who may not recall, the 1999 flick centered around a family who won a computerized house that ends up taking on a life of its own. While some of the features may have been a bit far-fetched, Disney certainly helped paint a clear picture of the kitchen of tomorrow — one in which can learn its owners’ eating habits through atmospheric sensors, as well as whip up instantaneous meals and beverages.


Now 15 years later, a Smart House-like future is finally coming to fruition. And as we’ve previously noted on Bits & Piecesthe Internet of Things is ready to cook up a storm. Helping us inch one step closer to the connected culinary experience is the Paragon Induction Cooktop, which was developed by GE’s FirstBuild subsidiary and is now officially live on Indiegogo. While smart sous-vide cooking accessories, such as the ATtiny88 powered Nomiku aren’t entirely new, the Paragon is hoping to up the game with its set of innovative devices.

For those unfamiliar with the technique, sous-vide refers to a cooking method used by a number of today’s top chefs at countless restaurants throughout the country, particularly steakhouses. Sous-vide requires those preparing a meal to seal the ingredients in plastic, then submerge them in a temperature-controlled environment, such as a heated water bath.


As its name implies, this smart cooker uses a 1,440-watt induction burner to heat water, while a Bluetooth-enabled attachment monitors the temperature. The clings are also magnetized so that they can easily affix to any piece of induction-ready cookware. What’s more, FirstBulid’s Induction Cooktop is a single burner that measures 12” in diameter and accommodates a wide-range of pots, up to 30 quarts.

Maintaining an even temperature in a pot of water isn’t always an easy task, however. That’s why the rechargeable wireless band syncs with the hotplate and transmits the temperature back to the burner via Bluetooth, adjusting the heat accordingly to ensure that the food is cooked accurately. At the moment, the probe works with just a few GE induction cooktops, though we can expect more are planned for the future.


Although it may not be equipped with built-in Wi-Fi like the latest iteration of the Nomiku, the platform does have a companion mobile app that enables users to browse a library of handy recipes. Good news home chefs, you can now easily upload and share your tasty instructions to a growing foodie community. Additionally, the apps lets its users surveil their meal remotely whether that’s walking about the house or on-the-go. Keep in mind, Paragon does have controls on the cooktop as well, meaning that the app will always be an enhancement, not a requirement to operate.

“However, sous-vide is just one of the many applications of Paragon. The precision that Paragon offers allows you to perfectly cook, simmer, poach, and fry your favorite foods in a way you probably haven’t been able to before,” the company writes. “For example, when you deep fry, you want to be able to keep the oil at the perfect temperature to avoid burning or undercooking your food. When you make candy, you have to be able to control temperature precisely to avoid burning the sugar. When you make steak, you want to be able to control the temperature to within a couple degrees to cook it to your exact specifications. Paragon allows you to do all of those things nearly effortlessly.”


This is certainly an exciting (and mouth-watering) territory at the moment, evident by a growing number of smart innovations seen at CES 2015. Currently, GE offers a line of connected ovens that enables users to start pre-heating from their mobile device, with a few others expected in the coming months. Among the connected appliances include a french door-style bottom-freezer refrigerator, a smart dishwasher, a washer and dryer, to name a few. Meanwhile, FirstBuild recently-revealed its ChillHub refrigerator that boasts two integrated USB hubs, built-in Wi-Fi connectivity and an open-source app that provides seamless integration, in addition to its Micro-kitchen and connected thermometer — the same thermometer that will be paired with the Paragon Cooktop.

Whatever the future holds, one thing is certain. Your kitchen is about to get a whole heck of a lot smarter. Hungry for a Paragon Induction Cooktop of your own? Head over to its official Indiegogo page, where the project has already doubled its initial goal of $50,000 in less than 48 hours. The device that will let you sear, deep fry, poach, simmer, warm and braise with precision is priced at $149, and is expected to begin shipping in December 2015. Learn more on its official page here.