Students from ETH Zurich have developed an intelligent cooking lid which warns users of impending big or small kitchen disasters. A unique feature is that the lid is autonomous, requiring no battery or external voltage source.
Does this sound familiar? After a tiring workday, you come home and put a pot filled with water on the cooking plate to make some pasta. While you wait for the water to boil, you relax in the living room, on the balcony or in the garden – and you lose track of time. It is only a long while later that you realise the water is probably boiling by now, if not worse.
How convenient would it be if the pot or the lid measured the water temperature and warned you when the water is close to boiling – preferably in the form of a notification appearing on your mobile phone. Marie Francine Lagadec and Kanika Dheman, two Master students from ETH Zurich, have developed a prototype that does just that: they have built an intelligent cooking lid with an integrated digital temperature sensor. Interestingly, the electronic circuitry is not powered by a battery. Rather, the necessary energy is obtained from the hot water using so-called thermoelectric generators. These thin modules build up a voltage upon exposure to a temperature difference – in this particular case the one between the top and bottom surfaces of the lid. “The components we used require very little power. Therefore, the small amount of energy retrieved from a thermoelectric generator is sufficient,” Dheman explains.
Award for the students
After having spent many hours designing and building the prototype, the students in Micro- and Nanosystems introduced it to the public at the student contest iCAN on the occasion of an international scientific conference in Barcelona. Their project was well received by the jury and was among the top contributions at the contest.
The prototype as presented at the competition is fed by a voltage from the thermoelectric generators, measures the top and bottom surface temperatures, and codes and transmits them as acoustic signals. “This was a feasibility study,” says Dheman. “The final goal is an autonomous lid compatible with already existing concepts like intelligent kitchens or intelligent households.” In such households, several autonomous devices are capable of sending their signals to a central unit, which amplifies the signals, processes them, and can send notifications to a mobile device via WLAN or other communication technologies.
Simple and inexpensive
“An autonomous system like our cooking lid has many advantages: it has a long product life and requires no maintenance. There are no batteries to be exchanged or disposed of,” says Lagadec. The electronic components are inexpensive, which is essential for a commercially viable product.
Lagadec’s brother, Alexandre, a Computer Science student at ZHAW in Zurich, is currently working on developing the basic structures of a kitchen app handling the transfer of information from the intelligent lid to a mobile device. It is possible that an optimised second-generation cooking lid will be presented at the next iCAN contest. However, Marie Francine Lagadec and Kanika Dheman will no longer be presenting the device – they will have finished their studies by then and no longer be eligible to participate. “We would love to pass on our project to other students,” Lagadec says.
So maybe sometime soon, an autonomous intelligent cooking lid “made by ETH students” will be on the market, letting you know when water is about to boil and warning you of impending common kitchen disasters such as over-boiling milk or burning food.