Plans for the Carbonator

One week in, here’s a round up of how the Carbonator’s doing and my plans for it.

The story so far…

It all began on Allison BlassFantasy Diabetes Device post at Diabetes Mine. I loved Allison’s Carbonator 5000 idea, as did everyone else who left a comment!

Realising we could have something a bit like the Carbonator 5000 today, I built The Carbonator web site and The Carbonator iPhone app. They let you post meals, leave comments and carb counts on them, and see the average carb count from the community. It’s not quite your futuristic vision, Allison, but it’s the nearest I can do with 2012’s technology. Call it the Carbonator 2000 for now!

Meeting the community

The Carbonator’s also on Twitter. I’ve talked with Allison Blass, plus Brian Bosh and Rachel Kerstetter, who also commented on Allison’s post. Thanks to your tweets I’ve also met other diabetic technologists Kewl Innovations and Jolt dude.

Kewl make the rather cool ClimaPak, a portable temperature controlled insulin store (there’s a great interview with them about it on A Sweet Life).

I’m also getting to know the online diabetic communities around Diabetes Mine like DiabeticConnect, the Diabetes Hands Foundation and the New Diabetes Movement. And looking for recipes I found diabetic Chef Robert Lewis, who’s flatbread pizza I’m counting at 120 carbs!

Next steps

Technology wise, I’m looking to get the iPhone app finished and launch it on the app store. The login, comment and upload features are nearly ready for launch.

But the main thing now is to keep reaching out. I’d like to know who else would find the Carbonator useful, what you’d like it to do, and how I can make it most useful to the community.

Here’s where I need your help to move things forward.

I’d like to know who finds it useful enough right now that they could help guide its development. Would you like to beta test and shape the app? You can suggest features and vote for ideas on the feedback page, and leave comments here on the blog or on Twitter.

Can you tell the community about it? The Carbonator is a social carb counting app, the more people using it, the more useful it becomes. Please share the links and spread the word among the diabetic online community.

And do you have other ideas for how to develop it, perhaps connecting or partnering with existing diabetes organisations? I’m starting to learn about the many diabetes programs run by groups like the Diabetes Hands Foundation. If you know of a project that could use this technology, would like to connect, partner or explore options with me, please be in touch.

Ultimately I want the Carbonator to be the best it can be – as useful as possible to everyone who’d like to use it. However it develops from here, I hope it’s helpful to you.

Carbonator Mobile v0.1

The Carbonator iPhone app is now ready for testing. Sign up at to become a tester.

The app lets you browse the meals on the Carbonator site and take photos. Currently you can’t upload the photos or comment on meals, these features are coming soon! By installing the app you’ll be notified of updates on your iPhone as they are released.

Please let me know if you have any issues with the app and any features you’d like to see added.

How quickly does the Carbonator need to work?

Allison Blass got in touch on Twitter and wondered if the Carbonator could work quickly enough:

So when the Carbonator becomes, you know, the most popular carb counting app in the world, you’ll just post a picture of a bowl of soup and know exactly how many carbs are in it by the time you’ve buttered the bread. I’m sure that kind of popularity is just around the corner, but in the meantime it can be useful with just a few users.

Say you post a photo of a mystery dish, but you don’t get a count until a week after you’ve eaten it. When you do get some counts, you’ll have learned something. If the Carbonator can give advice and feedback on meals after you’ve eaten them, you’ll get better at doing your own counts in future. Reviewing a food diary helps you learn to count carbs, and getting feedback makes learning easier and faster. Like Allison says in her original post, carb counting is a crapshoot. Who doesn’t get a count wrong or make a guess about a mystery dish every now and then? The longer you’ve been counting, the better you get at doing this. But it needn’t take so long to learn, and we don’t need to learn alone. The Carbonator can make learning to count carbs quicker, easier and maybe even fun.

More people Carbonating would be nice though, so as well as friends and volunteers counting for each other I see another opportunity here. What if you could hire a dietician or diabetes educator to work remotely and give you counts at meal times? There are already diet and lifestyle coaches offering their services over the phone, this would be a new way for them to work with you. Some kind of premium service could be built into the app eventually – you could buy Carb Credits for your account and get all of your meal photos counted for a week. So if you want fat, protein and Glycemic Index counts for that photo as well, and you can pay for the service, they’re yours.

A working prototype

I now have a working prototype. You can upload an image, others can comment and leave their carb counts. The carbonator will show the average count.

In this screen shot you can see Ollie counted 40 and Jackie 60. The carbonator shows the average of 50. Arthur left a comment without a carb count which doesn’t affect the average.

Please leave feedback and let me know if you’d like to help test it.


The website is ready to launch, I’m waiting on the server which should be ready in a day or two. The home page shows a feed of all the meals posted, like this:

Clicking on a meal takes you to its page with carb counts and comments, as shown above. You can post new meals on the upload page.

I think this should be enough to get going and see if it’s useful.

I’m also working on a mobile app that lets you upload pictures straight from your camera, like Instagram.

Bringing the Carbonator 5000 to life

Over on Diabetes Mine, AllisonB imagined being able to take a photo of some food and have an app tell you how many carbs it has. Here’s her idea and concept art for the Carbonator 5000:

This carb-counting app is made for both the iPhone and the Android (gotta share the love). It’s designed so that people with diabetes take a picture of whatever they’re eating, whether an individual item or an entire plate a food, and then the app tells you not only how many carbs you’re eating, but exactly how much insulin you need to take based on your insulin-to-carb ratio. The app takes into account the amount of fat, protein, and Glycemic Index value of your food, so the dose you receive is always correct. No matter what you’re eating or where it’s from (your own kitchen or the food truck down the street), the The Magic Carbonator 5000 just knows!

Funny enough, I’m an app developer who’s thought about this before. I left some comments on Allison’s post, which come down to this:

  • Image recognition technology can’t do this yet
  • But we can share images with each other easily, as Instagram and Facebook do
  • So we could share photos and make carb counts of each other’s food (“crowd-sourcing” the carb counting)
  • In time we could automate parts of it. One day, maybe all of it.

Because it’s powered by people, one crucial thing this app need is lots of people using it. More of us using it means more carb counts, which helps with accuracy (we could take an average) and quicker responses (because you want to eat your food while it’s still hot!).

I’d love to make this app. It will take a while, so I’d like to get a sense of who’s interested in using it, testing it, and helping with the design and build.

If you’d like to make it come to life, please let me know you’re interested by leaving a comment below and sharing this blog post.

I’m going to start thinking about how to build it. I’ll post again when I’ve got going.