Kickstart It: Touch the Temp with the Cryoscope Thermal Display

Robb Godshaw believes conventional temperature measurements like Celsius and Fahrenheit are arbitrary and difficult to translate. Using the assistance of crowd-funding platform Kickstarter, Godshaw hopes to upend convention with his touch based weather forecaster, the Cryoscope. Using a thermoelectric Peltier heating and cooling element, the Cryoscope can recreate any current or future temperature conditions from around the globe. Instead of mentally calculating what 67 degree weather might feel like, the Cryoscope allows you to feel it with the palm of your hand.

I recently had the chance to talk with Robb Godshaw about his Kickstarter project, the Cryoscope, and his goal to raise $80,000.

Where did the Cryoscope come from—from the beginning to where you are now?

I was playing around with the Peltier elements—the little solid-state heat pumps. And it occurred to me that this had never been done, making a thermal display. They had been researched before and they had been used for virtual reality research before, but there’s never been a product that uses them for thermal feedback. I had an idea to make a little gizmo that will connect to a far away place, either in terms of time or space.

Why is haptic feedback important?

I’ve always had trouble, and I know a lot of other people have trouble, trying to remember what a particular temperature feels like. How many layers do you need for 40 degrees? How much does 90 degrees hurt? Fahrenheit, Celsius, Kelvin—it’s all totally arbitrary. A guy in the 1800s takes the temperature of his wife’s armpit and how we have Fahrenheit all these years later. We have the technology to do away with forcing ourselves to measure temperature, and then mentally translate it back.

What you’re promoting now with Kickstarter is the second iteration of the product. How did you build the first Cryoscope and what changes did you make for the current version?

Both devices are based on thermoelectric elements, which are these little reversible heat pumps that when current is applied will take heat and move it from one side to the other. With that, you can make it feel hot or make it feel cold.

The first one was a cube because I was limited pretty seriously by the machines I had. One of them was a vertical mill, which is a lot like an etch-a-sketch for metal, so it really likes rectangles. I started with a six-inch block of aluminum, made it a little smaller, and hollowed it out, and I ended up with the first Cryoscope. But there were a lot of issues with it. First of all, it’s a cube, so it doesn’t really welcome the hand to touch. It had five sides, when you obviously only had one hand to touch with. And because the surface area was so great, I had trouble reaching the target temperature because so much of the surface area wasn’t in use. Also, it had a lot of airflow problems with the sides being blocked off.

When I went to remake it, I wanted it to be more efficient and more significant so I carved foam for weeks until I found the form I was happy with and then had it cast in aluminum.

How did you come up with the form for the contact surface?

I started off with a slight curved shape that would fit the hand really well, and then I just kept carving it down until I found the balance between fitting your hand and being attractive. I have probably sixty or seventy little form studies with different number of facets, different sharpness to the corners—I have so many illustrator documents full of random polygons, and then one that I thought was the right kind of random.

You have three different materials available for the contact surface: aluminum, bronze, and silver.

I started off with aluminum because it’s very thermally conductive, and inexpensive, but it occurred to me there would be a demand for more interesting metals. Bronze lends itself to casting so I made a couple of bronze ones. And for the outrageously wealthy, I made a silver one. Or at least, I have the capacity for making a silver one. There haven’t been any made yet.

The aluminum doesn’t have as much mass as the bronze. The bronze is three times as dense as the aluminum, and the silver is twice as dense as the bronze. They’re heated and cooled in the same way, but while you’re touching them they will be able to hold their temperature better because they are more dense.

How accurate is the Cryoscope in use?

There was a lot of work done to make the temperatures feel accurate because a 60 degree block of metal feels like 30 degree air because of how much more readily metal will take the heat away from your body, because it’s so much more conductive. It’s not a one-to-one relationship and that took a lot of playing with to get it right. The aluminum one defaults to 85 degrees for a 72 degree room, and then it changes by the same number of degrees as the deviation. In that way, we are able to very accurately produce the temperature. Well actually in a way that is perceived to be very accurate, but in scientific terms is less accurate. It’s more about what the body feels and less about the temperature the slab actually is. We have a half a degree of resolution for control of the slab.

When looking at your Kickstarter funding goal, $80,000, how much is for the production of the Cryoscope and how much is for the online Cryonet control service?

A little more than half of the goal is for back-end development. Wi-Fi connectivity is really tricky, because how do you type your Wi-Fi password into an object that doesn’t have any buttons? How do you ensure connectivity when your only way of interfacing with this thing is to touch it? The dev kits for the Wi-Fi module are very expensive, but will allow us to have the device set up a dummy Wi-Fi network when it’s plugged in, which would then allow you to enter your personal Wi-Fi keys.

We have to set aside years and years of server space to run the Cryonet in perpetuity—not to mention upkeep. Because the Cryonet isn’t something I have the skillset for, it’s always more expensive to have someone else do something for you.

Tell me about these Bronzeasaurs.

With Kickstarter you always need to have a low-level pledge. There are people who will appreciate a project but, especially at our price point, are not quite willing to commit. But they want to show their support, and they want to make your product a reality. I was thinking for weeks and weeks about what the low-level pledge rewards would be. I considered bags of aluminum shavings or thank you notes or that sort of thing. When we were casting one of the bronze prototypes the mold had a small, small crack and molten bronze spilled out onto the floor. And the little path that the liquid takes causes it to have this shape that really looks like a dinosaur to me. I thought it was the cutest thing in the world. They’re pretty easy to make, you just pour molten metal on the ground.

Your background is in industrial design; I assume that’s what you’re doing full-time as well.

My full-time job is more in the realm of fabrication than industrial design. Syyn Labs is a creative collective. We make one off experiences—if you’ve seen the OK Go Rube Goldberg machine, we did that. One of the great things about Syyn Labs, is that as long as you’re getting your work done, you can use the facilities for any personal project you can dream of. I used a lot Synn Labs machines and facilities to make prototypes.

Find and support the Cryoscope on Kickstarter

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