After watching this video I feel like the best microwave I've ever used sucked very badly. What you see here is a concept for the Heat Map Microwave, which would have a built-in IR camera on top and a screen on the front, effectively allowing you to see exactly when your food has been heated all the way through. Get this thing in my kitchen right now.
This (patented) concept comes to us from our good friend, former NASA JPL engineer Mark Rober, who worked on little projects like the Curiosity Mars rover. He's also the guy who digitised Halloween costumes, showed you how to win your Pinewood Derby race, and brought us extreme close-ups of some very large primates. This here might be his best idea yet.
The concept is really pretty simple. Your microwave would have an infrared camera built into the ceiling, aimed down at your food. As the food heats its colour would move from blue through red and yellow up to white — white being the predetermined optimal temperature for your food.
Then either you'd wait until your food appears all white on the screen and then hit stop, or more likely, the microwave would be smart enough to know when it's ready and shut off automatically. Rober mentions having the machine connect to your smartphone so you could be in another part of the house, look at your heating food displayed on your phone's screen, and add more time if necessary.
Rober was kind enough to give us an early first look at it, and took the time to answer a few of our questions.
Gizmodo: How would the thermal camera be able to solve the age-old microwaveable burrito problem, i.e. where it's hot on the outside and an popsicle on the inside? Wouldn't the heat on the outer layer interfere with viewing the cold on the inside?
Mark Rober: I wondered the same but according to all my testing once you are evenly heated on the outside then it meant you were good on the inside. Whenever it was still cold or even just room temp there was some kind of uneven heating on the outside still.
What was your testing process like?
Rober: I just have been trying to microwave a bunch of different things and seeing the results! One of the things to get right was the upper limit at which point the image would "go white" at. I found that if I set it to 160F that seemed to be the temperature where I felt like this was the desired hotness that we're used to expecting.
Can you get an IR camera that close to a microwave without getting weird signal noise?
Rober: From a science standpoint I can't imagine why you couldn't. Even if it were you could always do something where you had the microwaves pause for a couple microseconds while you take your IR picture.
Rober: By the way, I didn't address it in the video but there are a lot of things you could do with the software to interpret the images. For example you could take the top down view and basically extrapolate what the likely correctional heating would look like.
There's a lot of possibility here. For more traditional microwave chefs who want to see their food as it heats and don't want to be limited to an LCD screen displaying the thermal readout, a second, that's no problem because you could just switch between thermal view and standard video, so you could see your food bubble in 1080p HD. Hell, maybe you could even zoom in. I'm just spitballing here.
Thankfully, Rober isn't subjecting his project to the crowdfunding rigmarole. He's got the patents, and it sounds like he's already got backers who are interested, and just needs to prove to them that people would want to buy it if the price were right. Go to BetterMicrowave.com and add your name to his petition, would you? Because I want this thing. [Heat Map Microwave]