Drinking Together Whilst Apart

This Ritual Machine comprises a beer bottle opener that is connected to the Internet. On opening a bottle of beer at a separate location, the Ritual Machine pours a glass of wine at home.

Our first family, Craig, Holly and their young son Sam, live in Edinburgh and are regularly separated by Craig’s work travel to the South of England. Craig and Holly have an active social life and their home was decorated with photos of themselves and friends at parties and events, both before and after Sam’s arrival in their lives.

The ethnographic probes revealed shared pleasures together and frustrations when separated. A simple shared pleasure was the couple’s enjoyment of having a drink together, at the end of the day. When their son is finally asleep and they have done ‘all the serious stuff’, when they can relax and share each other’s company.

The Ritual Machine we built for Craig and Holly is a machine for drinking together whist being apart, allowing this ritual to be recreated when separated by Craig’s travel for work.

There are two elements to this Ritual Machine, these are a wine machine that remains in the home and an electronic bottle-opener that can be transported away from home.

When the beer bottle opener is used somewhere in the world, the machine will dispense a glass of wine at home. The wine machine, was designed for the home and specifically as a white kitchen appliance, it connects by WiFi to the Internet. The bottle-opener was implicitly designed for Craig to take with him while away, it connects via Bluetooth to an iPhone app installed on his iPhone, and makes a connection to the wine machine. Whenever a glass is placed in the machine an alert is sent to the iPhone. The machine will not operate without a glass being present.

In developing this machine we had to address the challenges of dealing safely with fluids and electronics, additionally to find a way to pour alcohol through a valve that would be ‘food safe’. We had to ensure that the machine could be cleaned and maintained by Craig and Holly independently.

In addition to the design of the enclosures, the machine and bottle-opener contain custom electronics and a mechanism to pour the wine. Software was developed for the bottle-opener, the iPhone application, the server and wine machine.

This Ritual Machine poses questions about activities people enjoy together and whether these rituals can be maintained when separated. Can the Ritual Machine maintain the spontaneous nature of this family custom? Or does the spatial distance mean we are really drinking alone?

wine machine copy
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