The world of food and cooking patents is both wonderful and weird.
Many patents are often a big deal and can sometimes give an indication of what a company or person has in mind for a new product. At other times, those product-makers seem to be taking ideas out of the pages of science fiction books and trying to write patents just in case the imagined future ever arrives. (If you’re Nathan Myhrvold, you may even have a science fiction writer help develop the idea behind the patent.)
Since I periodically check in on what’s been issued to see if there’s anything interesting on the horizon, I thought I’d share a few of the kitchen-related patents I came across in my latest search.
Meal Lifecycle Management System
We think a lot about the meal journey here at The Spoon and often wonder how technology can be used to assist its various stages, including planning, cooking, inventory management, storage and shopping.
According a recently issued patent to Bradley Charles Ashmore, the Meal Lifecycle Management System is a holistic system to track a person’s food inventory in real time, calculate nutritional makeup of ingredients and help in the planning.
The system combines a scale that tracks both weight and overall size footprint of both packaged and unpackaged food (a “pressure-sensitive pad”) and also uses an app on a smartphone to track the meal journey.
The image below — Figure 12 from the patent — shows how it tracks the transfer of a food item (peanut butter) from jar to bread, recognizing both the type of food and the amount.
A true food inventory management and meal journey assistant are holy grails for the smart kitchen. This patent is one of many we’ve seen in recent years that try to tackle it and, from what I can tell, has one of the biggest scopes in terms of how much it tries to manage.
The Voice and Button Activated Fridge Restocking System
While Amazon and others have been working on voice assistants and reorder buttons, and fridge manufacturers have been working on cameras and sensors to tell us what’s inside our fridges, no one has really brought it all together to create a full food replenishment system that works well.
If a new patent by Midea is any indication, that company is exploring ways to build refrigerators that incorporate a restocking system that integrates with voice assistants. The system would include a variety of sensor technologies to track food inventory, as well as a human presence detector and bio-authentication tools such as a fingerprint reader. The biggest focus of the reordering system is, however, a physical button the human would press near the food compartment to actually confirm order suggestions by the voice assistant.
The idea behind a built-in confirmation buttons is to give the user more control over their purchase decisions, enabling them to confirm before they actually buy something.
Of course, this type of human approval is not always what companies like Amazon have in mind. Heck, the company has even been issued patents for systems that anticipate what you may want and buy it for you.
While some may see a built-in order button this as adding friction to purchasing, I like the idea of having a final confirmation before a transaction goes through, rather than simply offloading the entire decision-making process to a bot.
Stoves With Stereos
And from the ‘is this really necessary?’ department comes this patent that was issued this month for incorporating an audio system into a cooktop.
From the patent:
“It is known that individuals often use their kitchen every day to cook food. It is also known that an integral component in the cooking of food in a kitchen is the stove. Individuals often like to enjoy audio media when cooking in the kitchen. However, none of the usual appliances in the kitchen are configured to play audio media for a user. Therefore, there is a need for a stovetop oven having an integrated audio system to create a more comfortable environment for a user.”
Not sure about you, but with more and more smart speakers coming to market at very low cost and the wide availability of Wi-Fi powered stereo systems, I’m not seeing the need for actual integration of a stereo into the stovetop itself.