Interactive Tables at Inamo Restaurant, London

Posted by Staff on Monday, August 1st, 2011

Inamo Restaurant London designed by BlackSheep

While we haven’t seen any restaurants featuring the food replicator as seen in Star Trek: The Next Generation, we are seeing plenty that automate the dining experience in various ways. For example, Japan has a ramen shop where your meal is prepared by two robotic arms; and in Germany you’ll find a restaurant where you order with a touch screen computer and your meal makes its way to you via a track system winding throughout the restaurant. For the most part, these attempts at automation are still a little clunky or lacking in charm. However, a hi-tech pan-Asian restaurant in London, Inamo, has blended an automated ordering system with a coherent and modern interior design.

Once you’ve been seated at Inamo, you will discover that your table is your menu. An overhead projector displays an interactive menu across the surface of the table, which is navigated with an imbedded trackpad. Using the trackpad, you work your way through the menu and then order by clicking on your selection. Once you’ve placed your order via the interactive table, you can then choose from a variety of tablecloths or set them up to change throughout the meal. Other fun features include games, such as Battleship, a live video feed of the kitchen, and a guide to the neighborhood; you can even send for a taxi to pick you up as soon as you’ve finished your meal.

The interactive tables use Bluetooth trackpads to transmit the diner’s commands to the projection on the table. While projection technology is something most people are familiar with these days, the interface software required a totally original design in order to accommodate multiple mouse pointers. The software architect who designed the multiuser system, Bernie Sumption, details the challenging process of writing a system that allows two people to share one screen on his blog. Here is a brief account of the challenge in his own words: “You see, computers only have one mouse pointer. Even if you plug two mice into a PC, Windows will prevent them showing up as two devices and instead merge their input streams so that they both appear to applications as a single virtual device.” Any programmers interested in learning step-by-step how he overcame this difficulty should definitely head over to his blog.

Orchestrating the entire project was the London based hospitality design company, Blacksheep. Their goal was to integrate the technological features into the overall design so that the ordering system doesn’t overwhelm the entire experience. The key to achieving this balance was strong design elements that reflect the restaurant’s techie appeal, but also incorporate that into more traditional themes. Colorful patterns inspired by kaleidoscopes and origami adorn the walls and furniture. At times, it might seem like the interior design is trying to compete with the excitement of the interactive tables, but as we mentioned earlier, we still seem to be in the early stages of melding technology with our dining experience. Naturally, there will be some technology and design bugs to work out before it becomes a totally seamless experience.

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