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Students and Starbucks representatives working on IoT project

That’s smart coffee: Informatics students implement IoT design for Starbucks

August 19, 2019

Imagine your project group needs to learn everything they can about how to create a smart water filtration system for a leading coffee shop—you know, the one with a storefront on nearly every corner and in many grocery stores. You’d want to research water quality, then find out how to retrieve data from interconnected appliances, and then learn how to create a data dashboard for clients. Imagine having access to the expertise of Delta Faucet, GE Appliances, and Gauge Telematics, and you’d be living the experience of four of HCI Professor of Practice Lou Lenzi‘s INFO-H 554 Independent Study in HCI students this past spring semester.

Jiahui “Miro” Wang, Parth Patel, Xiaochen Yu, and Yi-Shan “Tabitha” Tsai spent months in their warroom and on the road researching and designing an IoT (Internet of Things) system that would help Starbucks with preventative maintenance on their water equipment across their 8K+ stores across the United States. John Brockman and Cameron Gilbert, who work in R&D and Innovation at Starbucks HQ in Seattle, flew out to meet them twice over the course of the project—once in March for a mid-term review and again in May for final review.

Lenzi, formerly an industrial designer and executive at IBM, GE, and Thomson RCA, points to the value of student-client collaborations such as this one. “This project demonstrates how IoT is bringing together industry leaders and academia to solve real problems, while providing our students with world-class skills and training,” he says.

According to Brockman, Starbucks VP Engineering Venkat Venkatakrishnan, an old colleague of Lenzi’s from GE, was able to leverage this relationship to the mutual benefit of both organizations. Since Starbucks has prioritized IoT integration and is at the beginning stage, he says this project was well-timed to coincide with new equipment rolling out in the last six months.

I aspire to be a UX designer envisioning myself working on the design and usability of innovative technologies like Azure IoT solutions used by Starbucks. And the knowledge gained in the process of working with a mega real life client like SBUX is unparalleled!

—Parth Patel

The students, accompanied by Lenzi, met the Starbucks team at their Café in Crystal Lake, IL on January 31st. That location was chosen as it has one of only 4 IoT Water Filtration systems installed. They had the opportunity to interview their client and see a working prototype. (The Starbucks team bought the coffee during their meeting…) As an example of how dedicated these students are, they drove up from campus on a COLD Thursday morning—it was minus 9 degrees when they left IUPUI at 7 am—making the 4.5 hour trek up and back on the same day!

The team met with the Gauge Telematics team to learn how they build data dashboards for their various customers. Creating such dashboards was core to their project.

As part of their research into understanding water quality, the CTO at Delta Faucet arranged for the students to meet with a senior engineer at their headquarters in Carmel.

As part their research into understanding water quality, the CTO at Delta Faucet in Carmel arranged for the students to meet at their headquarters and spend time with one of their senior engineers. They learned a lot about water quality and water filtration—invaluable help from a local company. They also took a trip to GE Appliances in Louisville KY to learn about internet connected appliances and how GE Appliances could remotely pull data from these units and analyze the data. This was a great help as what they were doing had many similarities to this project.

Miro Wang says that, as the design lead in the Starbucks project, she enjoyed the challenge brought by the Starbuck project. Wang led the team to maximize the IoT capability for Starbucks water filtration system in both current and future stages and delivered a monitor system to fulfill current business needs. They also laid out detailed plans for their next iteration. “Starting with industry benchmarking, my team visited several well-established IoT companies and observed how product designers incorporate design philosophy into the development process for the Internet of Things,” Wang says. “Working side-by-side with stakeholders in Starbucks and my excellence teammates, I gained a lot of technically deep hands-on experience on how to communicate our design decision to ensure the quality of the deliverables for the project. With those valuable experience from the Starbucks project, I believe I can launch a successful product designer career in the IoT industry.”

Starbucks installed the prototype water filtration system  in the IoT Lab in Fishers so the students could pull data from the sensors installed on the unit. There are only five total such installations in the country—four are in Starbucks Cafes and one is in the IoT Lab. This install was a considerable expense for Starbucks, and they agreed to keep the install in place for future use.

The company is in the process of connecting store equipment to a “cloud,” so that the company as a whole is able to utilize data to understand the use cases of each piece of equipment; reduce store barista mindshare or opportunity cost for better customer engagement; allow for proactive repair and reduce reactive service; and improve forecasting to inform R&D the equipment pipeline.

“The overall objective was to produce a set of IOT dashboards that would monitor the water filtration system in Starbucks core retail stores,” Brockman explains. “The particular piece of equipment possessed an array of flow, pressure, and conductivity sensors. The student team was able to successfully produce a set of dashboards that were centered into four cross functional areas of focus: Store Barista, Facilities Contact Center (first point of contact for equipment issues), Corporate Facilities, and R&D.” The dashboards met the objectives of providing a quick overview and the ability to swiftly drill down to a specific store, specific equipment, and historical information, and Brockman says that Starbucks is currently incorporating the learnings from this project into their own UX dashboard design to expand beyond the water filtration system.

Media Contact

Joanne Lovrinic