If you aren’t disrupting your business model, someone else will – Jim Carroll

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It’s a fair question. You might not think about it much, but I do.

I’ve been talking about the concept of perfect microwave popcorn since at least 1995. Heck, I wrote about it in a variety of books in the 90’s. And still, it doesn’t quite exist….

If you try to make microwave popcorn, chances are it will go like this. What if appliance manufacturers used Internet connectivity to redesign the microwave.

So here’s the latest October article from my CAMagazine column.

Maybe I have an obsession with this, but the concept does provide interesting ‘food for thought,’ if you pardon the pun.

Your appliances are getting smarter
By Jim Carroll

Perfect microwave popcorn. I thought by now we’d have mastered this but, for all its successes, the high-tech industry still has not figured out how to make perfect microwave popcorn.

The problem with making popcorn in a microwave is that every oven has a different power output, so all you can do is listen carefully to the popping pattern to figure out when it might be finished. There has to be a better way.

Back in the early 1990s, as the concept of Internet-based home automation started to appear, I figured there would one day be a perfect microwave popcorn machine. While on stage talking about the future, I would tell the story of perfect microwave popcorn — predicting that I’d have a device in my home that would read the bar code on the popcorn bag, query a database through the Internet, and figure out the exact timing for that particular microwave device.

Orville Redenbacher would partner with appliance manufacturers and come up with a really cool automated system that would provide perfect popcorn every time. Internet-linked appliances, back-end databases and a marriage of consumer food products to the Internet and technology. It seemed like a pretty simple idea.
Well, as far as I know, it hasn’t happened — yet.

But this year at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas, there were glimmers of hope. Clearly, there were two big trends on display — tech/connectivity in the car, and tech/connectivity in the home.

A lot of the news sizzle surrounds tech in the car; the tech-in-the-home field isn’t getting as much attention, because it’s just not as exciting as wheels. But there are glimpses of what is going on: Whirlpool has announced that in 2011, it will have produced one million smart-grid-compatible clothes dryers that utilize smart connectivity to become more efficient. And imagine having a dishwasher or clothes dryer that sends you a text message when the cycle is finished — that’s going to be a regular part of our lives soon, too.

Massive pervasive interactivity on a grand and unimaginable scope will soon be upon us — and the younger generation, weaned on a diet of connectivity, will begin reshaping their world in fascinating ways. Already my 16-year-old son reminds me to stop one car length behind the normal spot at a red light — because he knows I’ll be on a pressure pad that will force an automatic green turn light.

What happens to our world when everything around us plugs in? Fascinating things, including perfect microwave popcorn. Buy the intelligent microwave, bring it home, and plug it into the wall. The microwave will use the basic Internet connectivity found in your home to establish a connection.

The package of microwave popcorn you purchased includes a bar code that uniquely identifies it. When you press “cook,” the microwave will read the bar code. It will then use the Internet connectivity to send a query to a central database. There, it will ask, in effect: “For this particular model of microwave and for this particular package of popcorn, how long is the cooking time?” Receiving the answer, it will proceed to provide you with perfect popcorn — every time.

Farfetched? I don’t think so. I believe we are destined for a future in which everyday appliances and technologies will be linked to the Internet; often through the home network or a wireless Internet connection that is set to invade your home. As this occurs, devices will emerge with capabilities that are quite unimaginable today.

Perfect microwave popcorn!
March 22nd, 2011

When do you think you’ll be able to make perfect microwave popcorn?

I’d thought I’d be able to do it by about now….

For all it's successes, the hi-tech industry still has not figured out how to make perfect microwave popcorn!

The problem with making popcorn in a microwave is that every microwave has a different power output, so you can never do better than by carefully listening to the popping pattern to figure out when it might be finished.

I’ve always thought that there has to be a better way!. And so way back in the early 1990’s, as the concept of Internet-based home automation started to appear, I realized that there would one day be a perfect microwave popcorn machine!

While on stage talking about the future way back then, I would tell the story of perfect microwave popcorn on stage — predicting that I’d have a device in my home that would read the bar code on the popcorn bag, query a database through the Internet, and figure out the exact timing for that particular microwave device.

Orville Redenbacher would partner with appliance manufacturers, and come up with a really cool automated system that would provide perfect popcorn, every time! Internet-linked appliances, back-end databases, and a marriage of consumer food products to the Internet and technology. It seemed like a pretty simple idea.

Well, as far as I know, it didn’t happen — yet.

But this year at the Consumer Electronics Show, there were glimmers of hope. Clearly, there were two big trends on display – tech/connectivity in the car, and tech/connectivity in the home.

A lot of the news sizzle surrounds tech-in-the-car ; the tech-in-the-home field isn’t getting as much attention, because, well, it’s just not as exciting as wheels. For example, read this article on Samsung’s initiative with “smart appliances’ in the home. The innovation mindset is just starting to emerge….

Yet their thinking seems terribly limited. So in the interest of trying to move the future along, here’s an extract from one of my books from the 1990’s (written with an old friend, Rick Broadhead), which was called Light Bulbs to Yottabits: How to Profit By Understanding the Internet of the Future. By “IP-chip,” we were referring to the idea that most devices around us would contain one or more “Internet protocol” chips that would give the device connectivity.

“Let’s consider an IP-chip-based microwave. If you own a microwave today, you will know that there is no “exact” cooking time by particular make and model. Some microwaves take far less time to prepare foods than others, depending upon the wattage and power of the particular model used.

Microwaves are particularly tricky when it comes to popping popcorn. Buy a package of microwave popcorn, and you’ll notice that the cooking instructions tell you to carefully listen as it pops. When you hear one to two seconds between pops, you are advised that it is likely that your popcorn is ready. Of course, anyone who cooked popcorn in a microwave knows that there is a strong likelihood that they’ll burn it the first few times, until they get a sense of just how long it takes to cook in their particular microwave.

Enter the IP-chip based microwave. Buy it, bring it home, and plug it into the wall. The microwave will use the basic Internet connectivity found in your home to establish a connection to the Internet. (For example, it will link into the Internet via a wireless Internet connection in your home, via the Internet-connectivity that runs through your electrical wires, or will plug directly into your home network via an Ethernet connection.)

The package of microwave popcorn that you have purchased includes a bar-code on it that uniquely identifies it. When you press “cook,” the microwave will read the bar-code. It will then use the IP-chip to send a query through the Internet to a central database. There, it will ask a question, in effect: “For this particular model of microwave and for this particular package of popcorn, how long is the cooking time?” Receiving the answer, it will then proceed to provide you perfect popcorn — every time.

Far-fetched? We don’t think so — indeed, we believe that we are destined for a future in which the everyday appliances and technologies which surround you are soon to be linked into the Internet, often, through the home network or a wireless Internet connection that is set to invade your home! As this occurs, the devices will emerge with capabilities that are quite unimaginable today.

It is the IP-chip that leads us into the realm of the Jetson’s TV show: it involves some of the more outlandish and far fetched proclamations of where the Internet is taking us.

Yet if you think about it, such claims are probably not too out of touch with reality.”

I’m waiting, folks.

Someone has to be able to make an appliance that can make perfect microwave popcorn!

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