Wireless Power in the Kitchen and Beyond

Last month, Sam responded to an NPR article about mobile tech in the kitchen, arguing that the well-intentioned piece may have undervalued the role of mobile technology in the kitchen of the 21st century. He concluded:

Within the next decade (if not sooner), you'll have a specialized device in your kitchen... that talks with your other devices (so the recipe you find on your smartphone on the way home appears on the screen in your kitchen), and runs an elegant piece of software integrating the recipe with video and a social layer that allows you to find recipes recommended by friends and share tips back with them.

Sam’s premonition was a timely one, because some innovative technology coming out of CES 2011, an international electronics convention that concluded on Sunday in Las Vegas, shows that this networked kitchen of the future isn’t too far away. I’m thinking specifically of Fulton Innovation’s eCoupled products, which are built upon a new technology that powers devices wirelessly. They’ve unveiled a slew of devices meant to make the kitchen a network of information and power, just as Sam explained earlier. From Fulton’s website:

Imagine cooking a pan that is heated with wireless power, making a safe heating surface. Even better, the pan communicates key stages of the cooking process to a smartphone or personal computer... The smartphone and P.C. are also getting information wirelessly that tells you how much orange juice is left or telling you that the crème brûlée is about to expire. That's an intelligent kitchen. 

This wireless eCoupled technology at the core of Fulton’s “intelligent kitchen” is fascinating stuff. One stunning example is the wireless-enabled Campbell’s soup can showcased by Fulton Innovation at CES. The can’s been printed with wireless charging technology on the packaging -- just plop the can down on an eCoupled-equipped kitchen countertop, and watch the soup heat up by itself.Technogorilla provided the best explanation for this tech I came across, explaining that, “A wireless coil is printed into the soup package that can be activated [using eCouple techology] to heat the soup, as well as choose the temperature, simply by tearing a tab.” Easy as pie.

This amazing wireless technology will help form the networked device-based kitchen that Sam envisioned in his blog post. For example, eCoupled-equipped cereal boxes could be placed on a counter, allowing nutritional information to pop up on your monitor. Or imagine if your phone’s alarm would sound off once the pan containing your spaghetti sends a wireless signal to your mobile device, telling it that it’s heated up enough. Meanwhile your iPad, where you’ve got your neighbor’s recipe displayed, recognizes that you’re ready to move on, reads aloud the next step, and activates your blender at the correct speed.

The result: A chef’s heaven, where food cooks to just the right level and mistakes are left in the cupboard with the cookbooks -- all thanks to mobile connectivity and technology that draws power without wires. And the best part is that this concept has applications far beyond the kitchen, allowing consumers to charge anything from iPods to electric cars. In the developing world, where eCoupled’s expensive technology probably isn’t accessible, Nokia is exploring ways to harvest radio waves to charge mobile phones. Regardless of how it’s applied, wireless power is an incredible technology that's as nascent as it is promising.