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!


THE FUTURE BELONGS TO THOSE WHO ARE FAST features the best of the insight from Jim Carroll’s blog, in which he
covers issues related to creativity, innovation and future trends.