Most of these ideas could be combined into a unit that would basically resemble ceiling-mounted track lighting. Each “light” would be able to aim itself and would contain some of the following modules.
- Kinect-like cameras analyze volume of vessels and their contents
- This camera could track your actions to a degree
- Projectors project lines on inside of vessels to show you how much of an ingredient to add
- Voice controlled “assistant” (read Siri) walks you through recipes, responds to:
- “How much flour do I add?”
- “What do I do next?”
- “The chicken is in the oven. Set the timer”
- Assists in timing multiple recipes to be completed at the same time.
- UV light reveals unclean surfaces
- UV light used to sanitize surfaces (maybe just when no one’s in the kitchen)
- IR thermometer measures temperatures, which are then projected onto the cooking surface
- Sensors smell for burning (I now realize this is basically a smoke detector but I think we could do better if we designed a new gadget around this use case.)
- Camera to upload photos of food to social media for bragging rights.
- Cameras to record video of cooking process for tutorials or to capture entertaining mistakes.
The nice thing about this track lighting unit is that it’s relatively easily retrofittable into an existing kitchen and doesn’t require you to toss existing gadgets. A major flaw I’ve noticed in futurology is the temptation to assume that you can start from scratch. But the way things really work is that technology creeps forward by maintaining a degree of backwards compatibility. Products that require large investments don’t succeed in the market. Also the modularity of this design is nice because some technologies will reach marketability before others.
Besides this device, every surface would be a scale, especially stove-top burners and including oven racks.
Cooking appliances could be programmed by temperature vs. time graphs which would be downloadable from the internet and allow different temperatures over the course of cooking, and adapt to the temperature of the food (like microwaves already do) and also the weight of the food.
I think the sort of assistance this provides allows the cook to feel like they still have ownership of the cooking process, as opposed to more automation based technologies that can rob one of that satisfaction. I’m reminded of the story of the boxed cake mix that failed when it only required the baker to add water, but was successful when it required the addition of an egg (although for that I think you must also factor in the distrust of the artificialness of a product that used to require perishable ingredients and is now made to be shelf-stable).
While it is a notoriously hard problem to do image analysis to figure out what the ingredients are that you are working with, I think it would be fairly easy to tell the system “I’m measuring the flour” and then it would just have to track the location of the measuring cup. If it can do this, it can track your progress through a recipe and warn you if you do things out of order or forget a step. This would be one of the hardest things to get right because people hate being condescended to by technology.