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Digital dinner table allows diners to send doodles to absent family members

It's the digital version of doodling on brown paper tablecloths at a noisy family restaurant with colorful wax crayons.

A group of London designers has created a digital dinner table, Drawn to the Table, that allows diners to share their meal and send messages to family members who can't join them for dinner.

Dad on a business trip, missing out on another family meal? To mark his cyber presence, dad can send a message remotely from his smartphone that will appear directly at the empty seat he usually takes up at the dinner table, a specially designed digital wooden table top.

Kids back home, meanwhile, can also send messages like "Wish you were here" by doodling on the table. Like a souped-up version of the kids' toy Etch A Sketch, users simply dip their finger, fork, chopstick or spoon in the digital ink and doodle away on the blank canvas. Drawings and messages are then transferred directly to absent family members' smartphones.

The idea was born out of designer Alice Moloney's childhood, she told Relaxnews, when her father's seat at the dinner table was perpetually empty.

"When I grew up, my dad was overseas all the time so he missed out on a lot," said the Australian designer, now living in the UK.

The digital dinner table could be all the more relevant today, when a sluggish economy is forcing more and more people to work later and miss out on family meals, she added.

Created as a research project at the Royal College of Art in London and commissioned by BlackBerry, Drawn to the Table was developed to show how online and offline technologies can enhance communication and social exchange.

Though it was created as a research project, Moloney hopes to commercialize elements of the concept.

The dinner table has become a blank canvas for many young, creative designers looking to reinvent meal time. When Irish designer Ahmad Fakhry created a molecular gastronomy cooking set, he also developed an interactive tabletop that helped diners construct their meal.