Heat Pixels: an example of recombination

Recombination is one of the tactics nature uses to generate diversity. For instance, genetic recombination is responsible of the fact that all our children are genetically different (with the exception of identical twins, of course).

Recombination, as in mixing parts of different concepts or disciplines, is a very useful creativity technique. Take two very disparate things and mix them somehow. The result may be strange, but it might be the seed for a useful idea.

For instance, a couple of weeks ago I was hanging out with some friends. Nice, non-technical people. They were talking about how awesome the new iPhone is told to be. You know, this topic is getting more and more boring all the time, so I tried to change the subject to their experience with induction smooth-top stoves (Let me say that smooth-top stoves are very popular in Europe —I’ve heard in the UK they’re called “ceramic hobs”). Then, the idea came to me about an “iPhone stove”: a multi-touch, tactile stove where you can “paint” heat sources directly on the surface.

The idea of someone using a multi-touch interface to determine the size and position of heat sources in a stove is a little bit impractical (not to say dangerous), but the concept of a configurable stove where you can “paint” heat sources with “heat pixels” seems promising.

See, this is a typical fixed configuration of heat sources in a smooth-top stove:

Four heat sources are shown. You can choose the one you need, depending on the size of your pan and the power needed.

But now imagine you have a number of small heat-emitting elements arranged in a bee-hive pattern:

Depending on the size and number of the cooking utensils you are going to use, you’d change the arrangement of these “heat pixels”:

At the left, you can see a configuration for three utensils of different sizes. At the right, you can see what the configuration would be for a single, large cooking utensil such as the one needed for a nice Spanish paella.

What would be the right user interface to control configuration and heat control of these dynamic sources? As we’ve said before, a multi-touch interface, tough fashionable, would be not the most sensible option. I suggest placing a camera and a projector in the extractor hood and using an interface driven by the user’s gestures and by the actual presence of utensils on the stove. Think of something similar to Ianus Keller’s Cabinet or Pompeu Fabra’s Reactable. It would work like this:

  • Configuration of heat sources (its number, shape and size) would be automatically performed by the sole presence of cooking utensils. Just put any pan anywhere, and the appropriate “heat pixels” will activate accordingly.
  • Control of each heat source will be controlled by hand gestures. For instance, putting your hand above one utensil and showing one to five fingers would set up heat power 1 to 5, whereas waving your hand would cut up the heat.
  • The camera attached to the extractor hood might be able to use some artificial vision to recognize changes in the contents of the utensils. For instance, it shouldn’t be too difficult to to recognize boiling, or even the slight change of colour that would tell you the stuff you’re frying is starting to brown. This way, you could give the stove commands such as “wait for this one to boil, then power down to level 2, wait 10 minutes, then power off and beep“.
  • The projector might feed the user with information by projecting figures and graphics on the stove, the food itself, or an adjacent surface (for instance, a cutting surface that can also work like a precision scale).
  • This intelligent stove could assist the user with audio-visual hints and recipes.
  • Now that we are getting carried away, the extractor hood might have also a mass spectrometer (a kind of “artificial nose”) and detect some of the aromatic compounds that are emitted by food as it is transformed by heat.

Phew! We’ve started by mixing the iPhone and a stove, and now we’re defining the kitchen of the future. Needless to say, dozens of objections and drawbacks come to mind (from “an extractor hood is the worst place to keep the optics of a camera/projector clean” to “heat sources divided into heat pixels would be far less efficient”), but I have no doubt that in the future, we’ll see one of two of the developments we’re describing here.

See where a little recombination has taken me? I’d love to hear where it can take you.

6 thoughts on “Heat Pixels: an example of recombination

  1. I like this idea a lot!
    I’m not totally convinced about the camera above, though- what’s brilliant in the iPhone is the integration of the interface with the object itself, it’s “one-ness”. I think “drawing” the surfaces you need can work with induction cooking because it only heats metal, not skin. And gently tapping upwards or downwards for heat control should work.
    Maybe you could get Apple in the stove-making business? :)

  2. Hi Eloisa,
    There’s one thing different in the iPhone and a stove. The entities you’re managing in the iPhone (as in any mobile phone or computer) are intangible (contacts, conversations, messages, applicatons). The physical avatars of these entities are graphical entities in the iPhone’s screen. On the other hand, the entities you’re managing in a stove are tangible: the cooking utensils and the food in them. Why not displace the user’s attention from the stove to the utensils and the food themselves, which are after all the object of your work? This is why I propose to make the stove “dissapear”, creating an interface that makes you forget about the stove, and focus on the utensils and the food.

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