Integrating & Differentiating

How it all started

Back in the Spring of 2007 I stumbled upon a little guide, explaining how to make latte art I got very curious and searched around for more images online, discovering beautiful artwork created by baristas from around the world. Each one is a masterpiece; each one is beautiful; some use chocolate; some use stencils; some are just pouring techniques with simple hearts and olive branches; some are sophisticated drawings of lions.

So I started thinking about how to do it from the engineering standpoint. Is it possible to try and build a machine that does Latte Art?

And so started my engineering adventure: the build up of the Latte Art machine.
Right away I ordered up components, and since I was not sure which technology would work for me, I ordered an old plotter that can hold up any pouring device in order to spray the medium of my choice. I also ordered a sample inkjet development kit that provided detailed information about how cartridges work, and a small circuit board that allowed some printing functionality by direct control of the cartridges. I modified the firmware of the microprocessor on the kit to spray from one nozzle only, and machined the extension arm for the cartridge so that I can wave it around over the cup.

And so, after some development work, the first x-y inkjet plotter was built. It could print vector graphics on the paper next to the plotter with the regular inkjet ink. Right away I tested how close the paper had to be – and to my surprise an image placed almost 1 inch away from the cartridge was clearly visible. That was good news – an irregular latte foam does not have to be perfectly flat.

I went ahead and ordered some brown food coloring, composed of FC ink mixture, replacing the ink in the cartridge. I went off to Starbucks and ordered a tall latte – ran back to try the design for the first time, and sure enough, it worked. I did not have a camera to take a picture of it – but I remember the sense of enlightening – I was very proud for several long minutes. And then I went back to work on it and improve it further: replacing some of the electronics, mechanics, etc.

Soon, my colleagues realized that there was something very interesting going on in my office: they came in and took a video of my latte art machine. And so it was, we were online for the first time.

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