Imagine a restaurant where you can browse food and drink at your table and place your order – all without having to get up or wait for a waiter.
That's Inamo, a swish Oriental restaurant and bar in the heart of London's Soho. TechRadar dropped in for a look.
The Flash-based 'interactive ordering system' uses a Bluetooth-linked trackpad embedded in the table, and enables you to look through a menu which is projected from a hood above.
The trackpad is literally the only thing on the table that isn't the usual dining paraphernalia like plates and chopsticks; there's no embedded screen or Microsoft Surface-type tech, it's all projected.
As well as an ordering system for food and drink, Inamo also has simple games such as Battleships to play against your dining partners as well as the ability to change the look of your table – you can change the virtual tablecloth every five minutes or keep the same theme for the rest of your meal. You can choose bright patterns or even a picture of space.
Tables are activated by your server when you are seated.
When TechRadar visited the venue it was early evening, but we were soon served after placing our journalist's special meal of cocktails and beer. The ordering experience may seem like just another part of the evening, but it's that it doesn't jar while you're doing it which is the real triumph.
Freelance software architect Bernie Sumption relays how the system was created on his blog at BernieCode.com. The real challenge was that the system had to let the diners (two per projected table) interact at the same time. As Bernie says, that's a problem.
"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."
Mouse-driven applications are generally simple to write because the mouse stack is already in place and these detect when events take place, such as when the mouse has clicked a button or hovered over something active. However, it couldn't be the same for the Inamo tables.
"The only option was a ground-up re-implementation of a mouse stack that takes data from our Bluetooth trackpads, converts it into a coordinate stream, feeds it into Flash and performs collision detection," explains Bernie.
Other clever touches of the system include 'cookcam' (our name) enabling you to see the chefs in the kitchen in action, as well as book your taxi home or even browse a tube map. It's all extremely clever and unlike most attractions based around computers, there wasn't a BSOD or Windows log-in window in sight.
And at the end of your meal, you can order the bill too. The interactive menu is linked into a POS system to convey what you've ordered and tally up the cost.
The 42-capacity main restaurant is designed by London based consultancy Blacksheep. Specially sized tables accept the projection with remarkable clarity, while the interior is clearly intended to meld into the background so that the flat table surfaces dominate the eye.
"It was important to balance out the restaurant's technological aspects by creating a social space with a strong personality," says Blacksheep Director Tom Mutton.
Inamo might initially seem a little garish and, as such, it's not really the place for a romantic dinner, but if you're after a reasonably priced meal out with mates, it's quite suited. And don't underestimate the appeal of the tech. We observed several tables of people come into the restaurant and marvel at the surfaces.
It's all quite astounding how well it works and how much it feels this is what we should be doing in the 21st Century. When they made Back to the Future Part II, they thought we'd have flying cars and 3D cinema ads by six years time. At least this place will look the part.
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