PAI interface at IFA 2018 (image credit: Computer Bild TV)

The idea of using your countertop as a touchscreen interface has been something big tech and kitchen appliance makers have been playing around with for much of the past decade.

First there was Whirlpool’s attempt in 2014:

IKEA served up the idea for its Kitchen 2025 concept a year later:

And Bosch has been showing off things like this coffee robot with a projection interface for a few years:

Spotted at #ces2017: coffee robot at the @Bosch booth.

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And this year it looks like the large German appliance conglomerate, BSH Appliances (the company behind the Bosch, Thermador and Gaggenau appliance brands, to name a few), is showing off what looks to be a more evolved version of the projection interface in PAI at IFA in Berlin.

PAI, which stands for ‘Projection and Interaction’, is a system that projects an image onto a flat surface to create a virtual interactive interface for the kitchen.  While the projector incorporates a camera, a speaker, a microphone, two USB ports, WiFi and Bluetooth antennas, the key technology here is a 3D sensor that detects minute movements of fingers on the surface.

According to project manager Markus Helminger, the PAI 3D sensor powers a projection interface that can “be perfectly operated even with dirty fingers and occupies no space on the work surface, so that consumers have enough space for cooking or baking.”

While other efforts at projection interfaces at trade shows have largely been to show off the concept with no concrete plans for commercialization, this time things look different with PAI. According to a German language post about PAI by on the BSH Kitchen Stories blog, they plan on rolling out PAI in February 2019 in China. While there’s no indication as to when we might see the technology in Europe or the US, my guess is we could see the technology in product rolled out in Europe as early as next year.

You can see a demo of the PAI interface (in German) below courtesy of Computer Bild TV:

The story behind PAI is an interesting one. The technology spun out of development work Bosch was doing in ventilation. According a company spokesperson, researchers were looking to improve the user experience for cooks and “the developers wanted to create an assistance function for an extractor hood that would make it possible to project images from the hood and display recipes on the work surface. In an extensive UX study carried out by Bosch, this idea went down so well that the project was actually carried out.”

According to the company, consumer testers almost universally said they use tablet or smartphone when cooking or baking, but they didn’t like giving up the counter space to these devices required and, perhaps more importantly, they worried touching these devices with dirty hands. As the company worked on the concept more, they eventually decided to not incorporate it into a vent hood but to make the PAI a standalone projection system that allowed the consumer to place it where they desired on the counter.

The company has also integrated the PAI with its Kitchen Stories guided cooking system and its Home Connect platform, which opens up some intriguing possibilities. It’s not hard to envision a Kitchen Stories guided cook experience that shows step-by-step instructions projected onto the kitchen counter. With Home Connect, PAI could also project virtual start buttons, timers and other ways for the consumer to interact with their appliances.

With BSH Appliances – one of the world’s biggest appliance companies – taking projection interfaces seriously, my guess is we’ll likely see other big appliance brands push forward with their own projection interface commercialization efforts in the coming year and we’ll most likely see some of these teased at CES in Las Vegas next January.

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