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The Talking Toaster

It's 3:00am. You're hungry . You've been up all night implementing a threads package for your Operating Systems course project. You stumble into the kitchen. Can you really be troubled with setting the toaster's heat setting, or activating the toaster's heating coils?

Of course not! That's where the Talking Toaster comes in . Instead of fiddling with the toast-quality dial or hitting the down level, the toaster will actually ask you for the settings. Even better, you can simply respond by speaking your reply -- no buttons to push, dials to spin, or lights to watch.

For Spring Quarter 1996, I enrolled in the CSE 477 course at the University of Washington. The 477 course is a capstone design course. The idea of 477 is to not emphasize new material, but to synthesize all the knowledge that students have gathered throughout their undergradutate career. To facilitate this synthesis, the CSE 477 course runs through two or three learn-the-tools lab assignments, then ends with students pairing up and spending the remaining several weeks on a project. For my time in the class, my partner was Chris Setter, and we built a talking toaster.

The operating instructions for the toaster are quite simple. When you want toast, ask the toaster for some toaster:

You: Toast.

The toaster will then ask you what your preferred toasting level is:

Toaster: How light?

Respond with either light, medium, or dark.

You: Medium.

The toaster will then lower its bread tray, engaging the heating coils:

Toaster: Using setting medium. Lowering...

When the temperature has reached the desired threshold, the toaster raises the bread tray and disengages the heating coils:

Toaster: Raising... done!

That's all there is to it. Isn't that cool?!? Not only does the toaster talk to you, but you can talk to the toaster, and it understands you!

Hopefully, you're interested in how Chris and I designed and built the toaster; if you aren't you won't be very excited by anything else from here on out! But if you are, I hope that you find these pages interesting and even useful to some degree.

To begin with, let me allow you to peruse the documents which Chris and I had to write for the course. They were originally written in MS Word and then hand-converted to HTML (it's not that hard, really).

I had a chance to take several very nice photographs of the toaster, detailing it's circuitry and mechanics. Feel free to browse the collection. The images are small JPEGs (no larger than 300 pixels wide), and link to very high resolution counterparts (usually about 800 - 1100 pixels wide). Just recently, I've also put together a Frequently Asked Questions list from the mail that people have sent me in the past two years.

This project relied on several key technologies. I have every intention of writing a whole lot about most all of them, but until I do, feel free to send me email ( with questions. The technologies that the toaster employed included:

Corin Anderson |
Last modified: September 8, 1996