Sure, it’s not a full-fledged robotic chef with hands and cooking moves modeled after Master Chef winners, but a smart rice cooker system patented by Midea looks like it will use some cutting-edge artificial intelligence technology to train itself to make a pretty good bowl of rice.
As described in the patent titled “Multi-Purpose Smart Rice Cookers,” the system is armed with a food-storage chamber with multiple compartments that can hold different types of rice and other ingredients like fruit, beans or nuts. Each compartment has a gate which can open and transfer food to the cooking chamber below in predetermined amounts. Above the top of the food storage chamber is a camera that identifies food and feeds information to the system’s machine learning feature.
Awarded on December 15, Midea’s patent also describes a multi-phased process to build the capabilities of the artificial intelligence over time to power the smart cooking. The first phase, training, would use image-based neural network systems like AlexNet or GoogleNet to train itself to understand the food.
The next phase in building out the AI smarts happens once the system is in the consumer home. Here, Midea’s rice cooker would get in-the-field updates to increase its understanding of food and cooking, but also learn and adapt its understanding of the process based on consumer cooking behavior.
Over time, the system would be able to personalize the food based on a user’s personal preferences and health and nutrition needs, as well as environmental factors such as season of the year or temperature. The system would also be able to understand optimal taste configurations of food based on ingredients.
Finally, the Midea smart rice cooker will connect to the home network, where it could be part of a smart kitchen system that incorporates profiles of different users as well as work in concert with other cooking appliances or home systems.
While patents are often just intellectual property land grabs to horde future potential product concepts and features and keep them from the competition, Midea’s huge market share — particularly with rice cookers (29 percent online and around 43 percent in brick and mortar) — makes it worth wondering if the company plans to roll out a cooker with this tech some time in the future . The company also announced in June it was working with Chinese tech (and AI) giant Baidu to codevelop AI-powered smart appliances, so it’s also conceivable this rice cooker concept shows up as part of a Baidu/Midea lineup of products at some point.