Cooking with Computers….

by techtiptom

Originally posted on wibc.com on 08/22/2011

Imagine the bizarre kitchen designed by computer geeks. There are no dishes at all, but a touch screen offers to fabricate bowls for you. Projectors indicate what items are where, and they can help you control appliances. And the refrigerator tracks which foods are going bad, finds recipes for you, plays music and video, and can send shopping lists to your cell phone.

While my idea of a smart kitchen might involve putting Papa John’s on speed dial, researchers have some much more inspired models. They start with two visions: making everything as simple as possible and wasting as little as possible. So let’s look around a futuristic kitchen, created from the combined imaginations of people all over the world: MIT’s Counter Intelligence Project, Sharp, LG Technologies, and others.

As you walk into the futuristic kitchen, you may notice a screen in the fridge and projections on the counters. There are a variety of intelligences that can be added to your kitchen. One company so far, LG, is selling internet refrigerators. Researchers have more in their scope, but the internet fridge is a start. It features a 15 inch LCD touch screen, which can play movies or music to entertain you while cooking. It also has a cooking database, and can browse the net for recipes and other useful items. The screen can also hold memos, so you don’t need to post things to the door with magnets. It makes maintenance easy, according to LG: “Refrigerator checks for equipment errors real-time and informs users about any problems via e-mail. If necessary, it provides cyber service call by guiding you to a nearest service center.”

As the brains of this kitchen may reside in the fridge, Counter Intelligence of Massachusetts Institute of Technology has much more in mind. They are designing a fridge equipped with a camera, which can reduce energy costs from holding the door open looking for things. When the door is opened, the camera snaps a picture. Their fridge has a projector aimed at the fridge to make it look like an x-ray view of the contents, but this could also be equipped on the LG internet fridge through the LCD screen.

Future versions of the fridge, they say, could send the image of the fridge interior to a cell phone on request. This could help you decide what things you need while grocery shopping, or even let you plan dinner from work. Going one step further, future fridges could keep track of what food you need and add it to your shopping list automatically.

The MIT researchers are considering more with projects than simply a fridge monitor. Some of them are saying it goes so far as to be called augmented reality, and it uses intelligence they call KitchenSense. The purpose is to take networked appliances and provide a common sense interface for them. The machine tracks what people do and anticipates what they may want to do. The project’s site says: “The system infers that when a person uses the freezer and then stands in front of the microwave, he/she has a high probability of defrost food. The microwave control panel provides the defrost function predominantly on a digital projected control panel near the microwave.”

The projections are also useful for directing recipes and showing people what cabinets items are located in. After telling the kitchen what recipe you want, it can project the list of items on the counter and provide arrows to all the cabinets where ingredients are located.

Counter Intelligence has also been working on containers that track the age and freshness of their contents. A sensor detects what is inside and measures the temperature, pH and salinity. The device counts down to when the food is no longer good, speeding up in warm conditions for example.

At this point, you may be wondering why we don’t just add a wireless network to track all the food. Potentially, the fridge (or whatever brain we choose) could track all the food, alerting you of things that need to be munched quickly.

For when food does go bad, Sharp has produced a kitchen composter. Available in Japan, the composter uses a low amount of energy to quickly “digest” food. It uses what Sharp refers to as a “proprietary Bio Compostng Mix.” It accelerates the decomposition, reducing 92% of kitchen waste within a day.

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