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the social cooler

WHAT IT DOES

The Social Cooler only opens only when a preset number of people are within range. It uses proximity-based Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE) as the trigger to see if enough phones are nearby for it to open and break out the drinks.

See it in action

WHY I MADE IT

This was an evolution of a previous cooler we had made responsive to Foursquare check-ins. The general concept was supposed to be a surprise and a delight in an office or at an event. The specific idea was that whenever someone checked into the cooler on Foursquare, then it would open up and there would be free gifts inside. Those gifts could be beer, soda, Nutrigrain bars, whatever. 


In 2014, Apple had recently announced iBeacon integration for iPhone and we wanted to try it out. We already had the cooler sitting in our office collecting dust, and we thought "What would be better than having to pull your phone out and check the app? Just walk up to it, and open sesame!"

HOW I MADE IT

We got a bare Bluetooth low-energy receiver and hooked it up to an Arduino programmed to constantly scan for nearby devices and note the distance of those devices. We used an off-the-shelf BLE chip that we had to greenwire to the Arduino. We had to port over the library to get it working, which was a little tedious. If we had done it a month later, we would have been able to use an off-the-shelf BLE microcontroller that would have made things much easier.

WHAT I LEARNED

The biggest lesson was just how much weather-proofing you have to do with electronics when they're in an icy environment. Also one of the silly lessons from early on is to always have a way to open it up without using the electronics! In the first versions that we built, I was so focused on just getting the thing to work that I forgot about the fact that if for any reason the board messed up, the cooler was basically unopenable! Only had to make that mistake once.

WHAT'S NEXT

This version of the Social Cooler was a great boon for our company in terms of getting us in the door with a lot of brands, who wanted to talk about some interesting ideas. Those this project is relatively old, it's still a great conversation starter when we talk to companies like Red Bull and Miller Coors. We have no plans for another version, but never say never.