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Canada Hardware Technology

Information On Philips' "Coffee" Machine? 168

RogueWarrior65 writes "In the early 1970s, I was fortunate to discover the Ontario Science Centre in Toronto. For the Gen Y'ers out there who never knew a world without computers, to Gen X'ers, this place was the future. Computer technology was just beginning to be exposed to the world and this museum had the coolest exhibits around, most of which were interactive. One of the exhibits was a machine reminiscent of an old vending machine. On its face was a large circuit board with lights that spelled out the word 'coffee.' There were several dials and a button, which, when pressed, would cause the machine to speak the word. The knobs adjusted various inflections and tonal qualities of the speech. Feeling nostalgic, I inquired of the museum about this exhibit. Was it still there? If not, was it in storage somewhere and could I purchase it. I was told that the machine was developed by Philips Electronics but the exhibit was no longer in their collection. Then I asked Philips about it and was told that no, they have nothing in the archives, no schematics or parts list. A Google search is came up empty as well. Does anyone have any more information on this gadget?"
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Information On Philips' "Coffee" Machine?

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  • Vocoder? (Score:1, Informative)

    by Anonymous Coward

    Sounds a little like a vocoder [wikipedia.org].

    • by pinkj ( 521155 )
      By the sound of the summary, a vocoder wouldn't be able to do inflection or tonal differences. This sounds like a big text-to-speech machine for the word "coffee."
      • It sounds less like a text-to-speech engine than a vocoder. Seems like a formant synthesizer with tunables hardcoded to produce the word coffee.

        • Re:Vocoder? (Score:5, Informative)

          by AJWM ( 19027 ) on Saturday July 03, 2010 @03:50PM (#32787660) Homepage

          It had four distinct circuits, one for each phoneme ("C", "O", "FF" and "EE"), and a sequencer. You could vary the timing of the whole thing, and the individual frequencies of the phonemes. The "C" and "FF" sounds had a lot of white noise, with the "C" (well, "K") more plosive. The "O" and "EE" were purer waves, each a mix of two frequencies (which could be tweaked). Shorten the sequence timing and increase the frequency of that last "EE" phoneme and it sounded more like "KOFEEP?"

          It wouldn't be too hard to reproduce the circuitry -- a handful of tunable oscillators, a couple of noise sources, and a sequencer -- but I think the questioner is more interested in an exact, not just functional, replica.

  • by daniel_i_l ( 1655579 ) on Saturday July 03, 2010 @03:04PM (#32787388)
    Here: The Science Page [] I found the following: "A machine which said 'COFFEE' which was located in the center hall. The machine was built from discrete components and had a series of coils and capacitors for filters and oscillators. Lamps lit up the letters "C", "O", "FF" and "EE" as the machine spoke. Visitors could vary parameters using analog pots to make the word sound different." So maybe Mark Csele [] knows.
    • by earthforce_1 ( 454968 ) <earthforce_1@nOSPAm.yahoo.com> on Saturday July 03, 2010 @03:27PM (#32787542) Journal

      I remember playing with that machine way back in the early days of the science centre - I didn't think anybody else on the planet even remembered it.

      I doubt that Philips would have done a one off project like that - it probably would have been subcontracted to a small, local engineering firm.

      • I remember playing with that machine way back in the early days of the science centre - I didn't think anybody else on the planet even remembered it.

        Neither did I. That machine was a riot. What a blast from the past...

      • by AJWM ( 19027 )

        I remember that machine well -- I must have spent well over an hour on it. I just didn't remember where it was. (I'd thought I'd seen it at one of the World's Fairs, and more probably New York in '65 than Montreal in '67. But it's possible it was at the Science Center -- unless they exhibited elsewhere before that.)

        Speech technology was becoming fairly self-contained by mid-70s, so I thought it was quite a bit earlier.

      • by Sowelu ( 713889 )
        More likely, instead of being Philips itself, it was some employees who thought it would be cool and then the company said "Hey, that's awesome, keep doing that and we'll put our name on it".
      • That's because everyone else was too busy losing at tic-tac-toe.
        • Re: (Score:2, Funny)

          by Anonymous Coward

          A strange game. The only winning move is not to play.

          How about a good game of chess?

          • I watched WarGames last night (It was on THIS TV)

            It was amazing - like stepping into a time warp. The mother's a real estate agent, she's on the phone talking about creative financing and a balloon payment in 5 years but who cares because you'll be able to refinance at that point ... and this was in 1983, a quarter-century before the real estate bubble meltdown.

            War dialing....

            Social engineering for logon info ...

            "Hacking" the payphone (we did it without having to unscrew the mouth piece - I guess th

      • by Fjan11 ( 649654 )
        Actually in those days Philips still had a wonderful engineering culture, combined with true in depth research. The current Philips just markets Chinese built products, with all the serious engineering contracted out. Philips actually had a science museum of their own at their headquarters in Eindhoven, the Netherlands, called the Evoluon, and I clearly remember playing with a vowel machine there (although it probably said "koffie" instead). Sadly the Evoluon was closed with the whole redirection of Philips
    • by Niris ( 1443675 ) on Saturday July 03, 2010 @03:32PM (#32787576)
      Interesting, but for other people: WARNING! Site has music in the background. Don't open at work with your speakers up, like this retard did :p "She blinded me with SCIENCE!"
    • by mrmeval ( 662166 ) <mrmeval.gmail@com> on Sunday July 04, 2010 @12:28AM (#32790022) Journal

      I emailed Professor Csele and he is alive and well. I mentioned this posting but did not inquire about the coffee machine. I inquired about his reconstruction of a 1969 laser system and requested if he could scan or otherwise digitize the schematic. There's a schematic on a fragile piece of paper he has that I'd like to see others get some benefit from. I'd also like to seen the odd ball logic system of that laser as it's one I've not heard of before.

      He has a keyword spam bypass, it's on the webpage.

      • That's cool too. IMHO, there's a demand for retro technology for a whole bunch of reasons. E.g. original Altair computers go for big bucks on Ebay.

        • by mrmeval ( 662166 )

          I like knowing how old tech works as best I can find out. There are several telephony technologies that you probably won't see in use again that to me are incredibly brilliant inventions with not a solid state component to them. This type of technology gets lost and forgotten as the digital age, while cleaver, allows 'old stuff' to rot away. Even google has lost a large chunk of the usenet archive it acquired and put online.

          • Hell, people pay big bucks for tube audio amplifiers. I personally would be interested in a reproduction Enigma machine. My nostalgia for stuff like this has me looking at Altairs and IMSAI 8080 computers on Ebay. There's something cool about switches and lights. It's kinda the same with my appreciation of steampunk.

            • by mrmeval ( 662166 )

              Heh, a friend is building a steampunk AK but I pointed out to them it was a fake because it actually works. ;)

  • Sure (Score:5, Funny)

    by JustOK ( 667959 ) on Saturday July 03, 2010 @03:04PM (#32787396) Journal

    Sure you aren't thinking about a Tim Horton's drive thru?

  • See Evoluon website (Score:5, Informative)

    by josgeluk ( 842109 ) on Saturday July 03, 2010 @03:06PM (#32787406) Homepage
    This machine used to be on permanent display in the Evoluon, a museum dedicated to technology and modern art in Eindhoven, the Netherlands. See here [www.dse.nl]. This site is run by a man named Kees who may be able to answer your questions.
    • by Anonymous Coward on Saturday July 03, 2010 @03:12PM (#32787450)

      This machine used to be on permanent display


    • Also (Score:2, Informative)

      by Anonymous Coward

      Also, check out this dutch forum ( Google Translation [google.com] ) for more info and pics.

      • by JewGold ( 924683 )

        The translation leaves a bit to be desired:

        "Several times a day suppositories made agreements with a checklist for a systematic check-ups failed to find, and believe me, they were there. Onderhoud had het er druk mee. Maintenance had it busy."

        • Re:Also (Score:4, Informative)

          by Venerable Vegetable ( 1003177 ) on Saturday July 03, 2010 @06:08PM (#32788458)

          Translation from someone fluent in dutch but less so in english:

          "Several times a day the museum atttendants performed (using a checklist) a systemetic check to find defective exhibitions, and believe me, they were there. They kept maintenance busy."

          Anyway, the forum, while interesting for the stories and links, doesn't know where the thing is either. One poster even writes he contacted the museum and was told it was destroyed (sent to junkyard) but that comment is unsubstantiated.

      • The forum mentions a movie about the Evoluon [youtube.com] that shows a few seconds of the machine. Start watching at 7:00. They also cite some article in a Dutch newspaper that says one of the machines has been spotted in Quebec (might be the exhibition mentioned by the OP). Finally, someone claims that around 1980 they had such a machine on display at the faculty of Medical Biological Physics (?) at the Erasmus University in Rotterdam, in the corridor where the lab courses where taught.
    • I remember three expositions from a class trip ages ago to the Evoluon: a spiral spring made of glass that was continuously compressed and relaxed, a radar that measured the speed of your hand and The Device That Said Poffee.
    • by Anonymous Coward

      Right at the end of this video:

    • by ushering05401 ( 1086795 ) on Saturday July 03, 2010 @03:30PM (#32787556) Journal

      This machine used to be on permanent display in the Evoluon, a museum dedicated to technology and modern art in Eindhoven, the Netherlands. See here [www.dse.nl]. This site is run by a man named Kees who may be able to answer your questions.

      You would make a great NPC.

    • Bingo.

      At 01:30 in this video, you get a short clip of the machine in action! It can be heard and plays again a few seconds later.

      The video was found following links on the Evoluon website, so proof they once had it, at the very least.

      http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0KXTJ2vYwRM [youtube.com]

    • Reply from Kees Stravers:

      The Evoluon was a science museum run by the Philips corporation in
      Eindhoven. Among it's many exhibitions was a speech synthesizer machine
      that could say the word coffee. It had settings with which you could
      influence the way it spoke the word, you could speed it up or slow it
      down, or change the pitch. There was a row of square white lights on it
      that corresponded with each letter, so you could see the word as well as
      hear it.

      Alas, in 1990 the Evoluon museum was closed because of ever di

  • by DirkBalognapantz ( 609779 ) on Saturday July 03, 2010 @03:11PM (#32787442)
    So, a quick search brought up this article from 2008 by Paul Shindman. http://www.canadasisrael.ca/2008/09/can-you-still-hitchhike-in-canada/ [canadasisrael.ca] It looks to be just a reference, but you may want to contact Paul directly to see if he knows anything else. Happy hunting.
  • If you buy it. What do you plan on doing with it. Will you display it in a museum. Or will you keep it to your self. If you keep it to your self, I hope you make a good quality video of it. I wish you success in finding it.
    • by Hatta ( 162192 ) on Saturday July 03, 2010 @04:25PM (#32787860) Journal

      It belongs in a museum!

      • d00d, if the Nazis get ahold of this machine, and are like, "At last, we will be able to hear the word 'coffee' modulated in various funny ways." And then they fire it up, and it causes their heads to melt and/or explode...then that would be awesome.
    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      If I could get a schematic and parts list, I'd build one and most likely post the PCB trace print or make PCBs available. Maybe Sparkfun or Make Magazine would be a good place.
      This museum had a lot of cool stuff that would be considered trivial knowledge these days. Another really neat one was the thing used to demonstrate connected logic gate systems. It was made of an array of clear tubes at the top that would feed into large AND and OR gate symbols, perhaps other types of gates, I don't recall. You'd

  • by p3bf ( 459005 ) on Saturday July 03, 2010 @03:24PM (#32787528) Homepage
    I loved that "coffee" machine. And all the interactive exhibits that are no longer there, everything from the huge logic gates to the parabolic microphones. At some point I think society switched from learning how to build things to just using them, and a lot of these kinds of changes reflect themselves in our "science" centres as well.
    • by TMB ( 70166 )

      Oh yeah, those logic gates with the ping pong balls were awesome! Probably my first taste of programming!

    • Trivia: Evoluon [evoluon.com], the name of the original museum/building built by Philips to celebrate its 75th anniversary, is now a meeting/event center. While it's a shame that the exhibits aren't there, it's nice that the building has been kept up.

    • by hey! ( 33014 )

      Well, that may be true for the Ontario Science Center, but as a devoted museum goer I'd have to say it's not true in general. Science museums (even Children's museums) are far more interactive than they were forty years ago.

      The most interactive science museum I've visited in the last several years is the Exploratorium in San Francisco. The least is the Smithsonian's Air and Space, but that's really an historical museum. The thrill is to be in the presence of the actual artifacts.

  • evoluon (Score:5, Informative)

    by Anonymous Coward on Saturday July 03, 2010 @03:32PM (#32787574)

    the machine was designed by philips and shown in the evoluon ( http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Evoluon and http://www.evoluon.org/ ). you can find a little clip of it on youtube ( http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=m-_pZV3tDiw ) @ 6:55 and forward...

    for me it was heaven as a kid... spending hours at that place... loved it!

  • by Kr3m3Puff ( 413047 ) * <<me> <at> <kitsonkelly.com>> on Saturday July 03, 2010 @03:40PM (#32787612) Homepage Journal

    The part of Philips that was into speech synthesis and recognition went through many different incarnations until it became part of Nuance.

  • Amarok (Score:2, Interesting)

    In Amarok by Mike Oldfield, there's a bit that repeatedly goes "COFFEE, CO CO COFFEE" in weird a synthy voice. Is that related or a coincidence?

    • I think it's "happy", not "coffee". Haven't listened to it in a while though.
    • by Anonymous Coward

      It's "Happy"

      In a completely unrelated story one of the 7 Dwarfs was deported from Budapest today. As they escorted him onto the plane, the Hungarian immigration officials were heard to say:
      "Come Happy, Leave Hungary"

    • Re: (Score:1, Interesting)

      by Anonymous Coward

      I believe the robotic voice says "Happy?" in Amarok, not "Coffee". This goes along with it being the final album that got Mike out of his contract with Virgin Records, the album deliberately crashing from one tune to another so that a single couldn't be cut from it, and the "FUCK OFF RB" (Richard Branson, boss of Virgin) in morse code on the trumpet. See this excellent analysis [tubular.net] for more.

    • by icebike ( 68054 )

      Odd, I went to Amazon and listened to a sample of the 60 minute single song album, and it included this very portion.

      http://www.amazon.com/Amarok-Mike-Oldfield/dp/B00004T9AT [amazon.com]

      I have no Idea if that is repeatable or if the samples are chosen at random.

  • Consider posting an announcement (or whatever) on Craigslist Ontario [craigslist.org]

  • This machine makes an appearance when Tron and Flynn are kept as prisoners by Sark and forced to keep offering coffee until they get erased.
  • by jbhjbh ( 1848044 ) on Saturday July 03, 2010 @05:54PM (#32788372)
    Around 1977 we took a family camping trip to Toronto. You should have seen us as we went sightseeing. Adam was walking, Jenn was in a stroller and April was in a backpack. One of my favorite memories was Jenn playing with this machine. It would simply say the word "coffee" and there was a dial on it that would make it sound differently. Jenn loved this machine and I remember we had to drag her away from it. When I sent this article to Jenn (who is now 36) she responded, "Aww, it's a shame it's gone. I wonder what could have happened to it. Now, if you'll excuse me, I have to go, um, make some coffee. In the closet."
  • I know that you mentioned that you already asked the museum, but have you spoken with the registrars? There should be a record of the deaccessioning process. They should at least be able to tell you what they did with it.

  • While the "coffee" machine in the summary may be long gone, it is not without descendants!


    http://tldp.org/HOWTO/Coffee.html [tldp.org]

    Now your computer can actually MAKE coffee!

  • Things were so futuristic back then.
  • by west ( 39918 ) on Saturday July 03, 2010 @07:57PM (#32789032)

    I remember being somewhere in the mid-west in the 80's in a really crowded room when I heard someone someone ask for a coffee. In a different part of the room, another voice suddenly said "CoFFee!" in the unmistakable tone of the machine. Then another voice from somewhere else echoes "coffEE?". Within a second, a third voice replies "COFFee" in yet another tone.

    I added my own, and then the four of us started to track each other down through the crowd with cries of



    Needless to say, the rest of the room thought we were insane or members of some bizarre cult.

    I turned out there were three Ontarians and someone who had visited the Science Centre recently.

    A lot of fun.

    Here in Toronto, I still hear people of a certain age suddenly repeat "CofffEE!" for no apparent reason.

    Freaks out the youngsters.

    • I remember being somewhere in the mid-west in the 80's in a really crowded room when I heard someone someone ask for a coffee. In a different part of the room, another voice suddenly said "CoFFee!" in the unmistakable tone of the machine. Then another voice from somewhere else echoes "coffEE?". Within a second, a third voice replies "COFFee" in yet another tone.

      Interesting. The way you describe it, one might almost think it was the inspiration for the voice of Wall-E -- where he goes through a bunch of dif

  • This isn't a direct answer, however its of interest to people interested in this. Sadly however some of the links are broken or missing information. A member of the SynthDIY mailing list bought a Bell Labs Speech Board and put some info up here : http://www.oldcrows.net/~patchell/voicesynth/voicesynth.html [oldcrows.net] Sadly the link to the schematic is broken but I've emailed to see if he can fix it. Jim also did some experiments and eventually made an insanely complex vocal filter board : http://www.oldcrows.net/~ [oldcrows.net]
  • I found it! (Score:2, Informative)

    by kmtv ( 609277 )
    I'm told that after the machine was taken off display, it passed through several hands and is now the personal property of one Faheem Rasheed Najm. Sounds plausible to me.
  • as a kid - this was my favourite exhibit at the science centre - it was the first time i'd ever seen machine speech synthesis.. and its many inflections of the word 'coffee' really stuck. i'd love to hear if anyone knows more about this machine. :-D

  • by cheros ( 223479 ) on Sunday July 04, 2010 @04:28AM (#32790740)

    The UFO shaped Evoluon [evoluon.com] in Eindhoven had the same device, I remember playing with it in my youth. However, we're talking 40+ years ago (yes, I'm old), the UFO shaped building has changed from a Philips-sponsored exhibition [youtube.com] to a conference centre. Sniff.. Your coffee machine is at approx 7:12 in. It also showed those *beautiful* relays that were used for telephones..

    It may be worth calling the Philips media representatives in Eindhoven and ask - I'm positive Philips will have the drawings stashed away somewhere. I have noticed some discussion about the specific machine on some Dutch forums (Google for "evoluon koffie" and you'll find them). Sorry, it's in Dutch..

    Good luck, and thanks for bringing back those memories - while you're at it, ask them where the giant nixie tubes went!

  • by Anonymous Coward on Sunday July 04, 2010 @07:38AM (#32791260)

    The coffee machine was developed by the Philips NatLab ("Natuurkundig Laboratorium"), the research and development labs of Philips in Eindhoven. Two of them were made. It was an early experiment in speech synthesis. The machine has been in the Evoluon exhibition on permanent display from the beginning in 1966 until it was closed in 1989. It was very popular and many people would start imitating the machine whenever coffee was mentioned. When the Evoluon exhibition was dismantled, many displays were given away to museums around the world. The coffee machine that had been in the Evoluon was given to the Ontario Science Centre in Toronto. No modifications needed to be made to it, since the word 'coffee' in English sounds the same as the word 'koffie' in Dutch.

    The question what happened to the machine often comes up. Last time it was mentioned, I was told the Ontario Science Centre had thrown away the machine when it was taken out of the exhibition. The second coffee machine was given to the Erasmus University of Rotterdam. I am told they have since thrown away this machine as well.

    I was working on getting some of the displays that were given to Dutch museums back into the Evoluon for a remembrance event a few years ago, but all I could get was the Time display. Some displays are still shown in several Dutch museums, but most of them are either thrashed or unrecognizable changed.

    It will be hard to find out who exactly designed the coffee machine. Many of the people who worked at the NatLab or the Evoluon in the sixties are no longer among us. The NatLab has been reorganized many times since then and a lot of documentation of the past is lost. It's the same problem with the Senster, the giant interactive robot at the entrance to the Evoluon. Only because the widow of the artist who designed it had kept a lot of papers, some headway could be made into discovering how it worked.

    Thanks for Slashdotting my site. I feel really famous now :)


  • It's in storage... (Score:5, Informative)

    by bigdaddyhame ( 623739 ) on Sunday July 04, 2010 @08:08AM (#32791346) Homepage
    http://www.facebook.com/sciencecentrememories?ref=ts [facebook.com] The Ontario Science Centre Memory Bank is a Facebook group for sharing pics and notes about favorite displays and experiences at the OSC... They include a pic and some notes about the Philips Coffee Machine and it's current whereabouts... At last word it was held in a warehouse, needing spare parts. http://www.facebook.com/photo.php?pid=3172797&id=64649215395 [facebook.com]
  • I was at the Ontario Science Museum in the early 90's where a "fish silo" was on display; this was a tall transparent cylinder about 5 feet in diameter with a spiraling floor from top to bottom. There was a downward flowing current through the spiral which the fish would swim against for exercise. It was billed as a super-efficient fish farm that allowed the fish to exercise in ways they couldn't (or didn't) in a regular pond farm and thus produced fish more like wild-caught. I asked about this a few y
  • COFFEE? video (Score:4, Informative)

    by hyrdra ( 260687 ) on Sunday July 04, 2010 @03:23PM (#32793168) Homepage Journal


    At the end of the video you can see a demonstration of the machine.

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