Nothing new since the microwave: Let's get those home tech inventors cooking

You might want to wash the rolling pin first


Something for the Weekend, Sir? Three weeks into 2021 and we’ve run out of the leftovers at last. Things tend to get somewhat overcooked over the traditional holiday period and I’m pleased to see the back of them. They were getting hard to digest.

I am of course talking about last-year business data summaries and tech predictions for the next 12 months. They begin landing on your plate during late November, get rammed down your throat through December, and continue eating their way into January.

Well I’m done, now. Anybody got any Gaviscon?

There were some low points – tell me again that the Word Of The Year was "unmute", why don’t you? – but also some outstanding examples of deliriously dumb data to enjoy as I chainsawed another slice from my Christmas fruit cake while straining my home-made mulled wine through five layers of sackcloth. A fairly typical example of the latter was the revelation from that bastion of 21st century civilisation Stripchat that it had welcomed 906,181,416 new users in 2020.

Given that’s more than the populations of North and South America combined, one wonders if Stripchat had considered the possibility that, oh I dunno, some of its more bashful visitors might have set up one-off logins for each visit. It could turn out that all 906 million of last year’s users were a 14-year-old schoolkid called Darren from Darlington.

Equally fascinating but less explicable was a "year in review" based on the US Consumer Product Safety Commission’s database of emergency room visits. It lists the range of object types that got stuck in people’s orifices and had to be removed. If you have ever wondered whether it was possible to lose a pen cap in your ear or a flashlight up your nose, well now you know. The list begins with orifices in the head and, er, "works south".

A striking aspect of the list is the absence of cooking utensils, apart from the usual plastic cutlery. (I say "usual" but come on: plastic cutlery? That must have been one heck of a picnic.) Given that most of us have grown a bit thicker over 2020 due to lockdowns and curfews – even Stripchat notes that Darren’s interest in skinny models waned last year – why weren’t the naughty crowd reaching for the most convenient tools of the trade to hand, i.e. those nearest the fridge and hob? Where are the rude rolling pins, sexy saucepan handles and spanky spatulas in the list?

The tech industry seems equally reluctant to get its apron dirty. When was the last time you heard of a genuine attempt at inventing new cuisine technology? Could it have been the microwave oven? My Mum had one of those even before we had a VHS recorder. Surely by now we should be making the Sunday roast in a nuclear oven, filleting fish by laser and turning spuds into chips by light sabre.

Thank goodness for robots, eh?

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When I first saw this, it occurred to me that those mighty mecha-bicep arms must use up a lot of electricity just to stir the soup. But then I remembered that it costs $25 million in electricity every day just to process Bitcoin transactions, and nobody gives a fuck about that. Given that making soup is arguably more important than ponzi cloud money in fairyland, Robo Chef Maximillian wins the moral ground when it comes to flippant energy wastage.

Moley Robotics seems to be beating a path that nobody else cares to follow. Instead, smart home tech still revolves around the same old dreary IoT that it always has – automatic vacuum cleaners, web-accessible security cams, remote apps to switch on your central heating before you leave the office.

And all this at a time when vast swathes of us are forced to work from home. There you are, sitting in your smart home, surrounded by pointless remote-control and automated devices rendered obsolete by the fact that, thanks to Covid-19, you aren’t somewhere else.

One moment, you’re shouting to be heard over the din of the idiot vacuum cleaner that keeps bursting into your spare bedroom while you’re delivering your daily report to the project manager on Zoom. The next, you’re idling away your tea break by running your smart security app so that you can watch a live stream of yourself sitting on the sofa.

Still, there’s always the smart heating system! Who needs to go to all that trouble of pressing the ‘on’ button next to the boiler just because you’re in lockdown? Instead, you can simply unlock your phone, run your smart heating app, log in to it, try log into it again because you got your password wrong, try to log into it a third time because you typed a lowercase instead of uppercase character, phone up the support line because you are now locked out of the app for typing your password incorrectly three times, check your email for a password reset message, change your password, change your password again because you didn’t include a special character, log into the app, wait for a pending mandatory app update to complete, force-restart your phone, unlock it, run the new version of the smart heating app, forget your new password, yell fucking fucker wank buggeration and THEN press the ‘on’ button next to the boiler.

On the kitchen front, where we spend most of our daylight hours these days? Not a peep. It’s as if 2020 never happened.

No, hang on, come to think of it, there was a major invention in cuisine tech at the end of last year: the KFConsole, a bucket-shaped food heater for keeping battered chicken entrails warm while you play stuff on your TV. You can even operate it with one hand.

Darren from Darlington will be overjoyed.

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Alistair Dabbs
Alistair Dabbs is a freelance technology tart, juggling tech journalism, training and digital publishing. He prefers to do the cooking himself but wonders whether Moley Robotics would care to invent some robots that did the washing up. More at Autosave is for Wimps and @alidabbs.

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