Back when the government first set aside radio spectrum real estate for home and industrial use in 1947, one of the very first applications they had in mind was the microwave oven. Only the then nascent cooking technology, which operates within the 2.4 GHz radio band, wouldn’t be using the newly reserved spectrum to send communication signals over the air, but would instead be creating electromagnetic radiation to heat food.
Three quarters of a century later microwave ovens are still heating our food, only nowadays their widespread use congests the same ISM bands (Industrial, Scientific and Medical) that are now widely used for digital communication networks such as those based on Wi-Fi. Most of the time it’s not a problem, at least until someone gets hungry and zaps a snack in the microwave. When that happens, the device’s electromagnetic radiation can disrupt the quality of a Wi-Fi network operating in the 2.4 GHz frequency band.*
In other words, heating up Hot Pockets usually results in dropped data packets.
Most of us tolerate the problem because we don’t really think about it. Not Amazon. This week the company was issued US patent number 10,477,585 for a system that coordinates the heating element of the microwave (the magnetron) with the home’s Wi-Fi network.
How does it work? Basically by employing a system where the microwave oven and Wi-Fi network coordinate network traffic around the magnetron’s on-off cycle.
From the patent: the “wireless communication device (e.g., the microwave oven itself, a speech interface device in the environment of the microwave oven, etc.) may determine if the magnetron of the microwave oven is operating, and, if the magnetron is operating, a coordination mechanism can be implemented to send data wirelessly in the environment during the magnetron’s off period, and to cease sending the data in the environment during the magnetron’s on period.”
So why would Amazon care about coordinating our microwave ovens with local digital communication traffic? Maybe in part to make sure the company’s tens of millions of Wi-Fi devices in our homes in the form of Alexa-powered Echos and Ring doorbells work well together. The company also has its own microwave oven product (as well as a new multifunction smart oven), so it’s not too much of a stretch to see the company implementing this technology in its own products as a potential differentiator.
In the end, it’s hard to say whether Amazon will ever even put this patent to use. The company is a prolific researcher and patent filer, and while the bulk of its patents have to do with things like cloud computing, drones and artificial intelligence, every now and then one of their patents is of a more domestic nature. But, like with the Seattle giant’s other patents like the electronic nose in a refrigerator or a smart garden, it sure is fun to speculate.
*Sure, network nerds will note that many Wi-Fi networks nowadays operate in a higher, less-cluttered frequency in the 5GHz radio band, but most Wi-Fi gear is dual-mode and still operate periodically in the 2.4 GHz band.