back to article Ex-NASA boffin dreams of PREDATOR-ish tech in humble microwaves

A former engineer on the Curiosity Mars rover team has come up with a bright idea to improve the aging microwave cooker: thermal imaging, inspired by the Predator franchise, to check when food is done. Youtube Video “The microwave has pretty much remained unchanged since it’s inception in 1967,” said Mark Rober in a vid …

  1. Chris G Silver badge

    Not so bad

    As an idea it has merit; how many times do you take an apparently piping hot dish out of the nuker only to find the food has cold spots in it.

    Perhaps a stirrer would help as an addition to the thermal imager but I am not crazy about the bluetooth/Wifi/IoT part, if you can't can't be arsed to spend 3 or 4 minutes preparing your food you should stay with your mum.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Not so bad

      "[,,,] out of the nuker only to find the food has cold spots in it."

      The cold spots are often in the centre of the food. The surface is by then very hot - so it is hard to see how a thermal image would show that core temperature. One of my favourite desserts is a small bread pudding that comes in its own container. When taken out of the microwave after 60 seconds the top and sides are piping hot - but a thumb on the base centre shows it is only warm and it needs another 30 seconds.

      1. wdmot

        Re: Not so bad

        And then by the time the middle is done, the outer part is overcooked, or at least way too hot to eat right away. (I suppose that's why most microwave cooking/reheating instructions say to leave it covered for 2-3 minutes after cooking -- presumably to even out the temperature a bit).

        What needs to be invented along with adding thermal imaging is precise aiming of microwave energy so that it's only heating the parts that still need cooking.

        1. John Brown (no body) Silver badge

          Re: Not so bad

          "I suppose that's why most microwave cooking/reheating instructions say to leave it covered for 2-3 minutes after cooking"

          Yes, as anyone who knows how to cook will tell you, things don't stop cooking just because you remove the heat source. That waiting time in the instructions is part of the cooking time. Many people think microwaves aren't very good because they don't understand that and don't wait, they just tip it straight out.

      2. Kunari

        Re: Not so bad

        That's caused by the microwave cooking at too high a power. I make a similar brownie treat and have to set my microwaves power to 60% and it seems to do fine at 60sec.

        1. Red Bren

          @Kunari 60% Power

          What has annoyed me about every microwave oven I've ever owned* is that setting the power to 60% doesn't mean the oven generates lower power microwaves, it just generates full power for 60% of the time. I want a microwave that allows me to vary the power output of the magnetron. Does such a thing exist?

          * Sometimes it's easier to replace a microwave to clean it...

          1. McHack

            Re: @Kunari 60% Power

            Oh yes, there are cheap microwave ovens that are true variable power. Mechanical timers and the power output knob feels like you're rotating a transformer core element, as wth a moveable shunt arc welder transformer. No electronics needed in the ovens, all mechanical.

            The first home use microwaves were like that, until recently it was the cheapest small imports, now the electronic ones have replaced even those. Which is a shame, all-mechanicals are EMP resistant.

            This looks like an example.


            1. Rol Silver badge

              Re: @Kunari 60% Power

              My all mechanical microwave is about thirty years old and everything, including the light inside the machine, still works. Conversely the all singing all dancing machines I had in the past became unusable when the pathetic electronic circuitry died within a few years of purchase.

              Why am I telling you this? Well it is one of the few bits of "tech", that I own, I can gloat about.

            2. Anonymous Coward
              Anonymous Coward

              Re: @Kunari 60% Power

              You are in your kitchen and worried about an EMP???

              Christ, what are you cooking!!

          2. Michael Wojcik Silver badge

            Re: @Kunari 60% Power

            I want a microwave that allows me to vary the power output of the magnetron. Does such a thing exist?

            Panasonic sells, or used to sell, an "Inverter" line of microwave ovens that actually reduce the magnetron power. I have one that I've owned since 1999. Still works well, though steam has rusted parts of the inside of the cabinet.

        2. JamesTQuirk

          Re: Not so bad

          My problem is, that if you can/have to "surf the net" while you wait, it's too slow ...

          In 1974, I was a apprentice Chef, (wrote recipe costing software on trs80 mod1, converted into CPM on Kaypro, didn't cook anymore), but I had "privilege" of using 1 of first microwaves in OZ, bigger than a 7.5kg washing machine on the "bench", had to wear a RADIATION tag to use it. Unnerving a little, but must have not bugged me that much, I sat in front of CRT Green/amber/white eyecooking monitors instead ..

    2. VinceH

      Re: Not so bad

      "if you can't can't be arsed to spend 3 or 4 minutes preparing your food you should stay with your mum."

      I can't be arsed spending three or four minutes preparing my food, because I prefer spending half an hour to an hour. The microwave might get used to heat up a pre-packaged pie or some such every once in a while, when time is short - but otherwise, meh.

      1. Eric Olson

        Re: Not so bad

        Actually, there are a number of foods that cook ideally in a microwave precisely because of the efficient heat it can generate in specific foods. Popcorn is a prime example of this, as you can take a small amount, put it in a paper bag without any oil or butter, fold over the top, then staple (yes staple) it shut on either side of the fold. 2 minutes later, perfect popcorn. It sure beats the hot fat over a flame method in both time and clean-up.

        Many vegetables are the same way. One of my favorite tricks is asparagus spears, sprinkled with salt, wrapped in a damp paper towel, wrapped in plastic wrap, then cooked for a couple of minutes. The water steams the spears in no time while preserving the texture and bring green color. Same can be done with other fresh veggies like green beans and snap peas. In fact, the new steaming bags for frozen veggies operate on the same principle.

        Anytime the goal is to cook something with a high water content, the microwave is your best friend. Plus it's one less burner or pot that you have to use while cooking up the rest of dinner.

        TL;DR - A bad craftsman always blames his tools.

  2. Sureo

    Sounds like a great idea

    But do we really need the NSA watching what we're cooking?

    1. Dave 126 Silver badge

      Re: Sounds like a great idea

      Perhaps you are overestimating how interesting your dinners are.

      1. Pascal Monett Silver badge

        Not really

        Given that the NSA is hoovering up everything first, then applying analysis to it, the comment stands.

  3. Dan Paul

    Great Idea but.....

    the cost of thermal cameras is prohibitive. Even the least expensive FLIR camera is more than a microwave oven is.

    Remind me why you wouldn't want to use the probe type temp sensor? Thermistors or Thermocuples only cost pennies and easily wire to P.I.D. controllers the oven electronics.

    1. Mark 85 Silver badge

      Re: Great Idea but.....

      Well... many do come with probes or have available as an option. While this is neat idea, I too wonder about the cost... and no wouldn't want wifi or IoT as it's a waste of time and money, IMO.

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Great Idea but.....

      "Thermistors or Thermocuples only cost pennies and easily wire [...]"

      It is my understanding that anything metallic in the cooking area of a microwave oven throws off sparks and disrupts the radiation pattern. That does not augur well for electronic components.

      1. Pedigree-Pete

        Re: Great Idea but.....

        ....including STAPLES. I remember "retiring" an old commercial microwave with a cup of coffee & a teaspoon. Brief but interesting light show.

    3. Kunari

      Re: Great Idea but.....

      My parents first microwave had the sensor. I don't know why they went out of fashion, it'd make a micro so much better at cooking/reheating food.

      1. John Bailey

        Re: Great Idea but.....

        "My parents first microwave had the sensor. I don't know why they went out of fashion, it'd make a micro so much better at cooking/reheating food."

        Because after a while, people stop worrying, and estimate the time and power.

        If you want, get a kitchen thermometer. I had one. Didn't bother replacing it when it broke.

      2. Mike Moyle Silver badge

        Re: Great Idea but.....

        It seems that most microwaves that I've seen these days come with a rotating turntable. It evens out the cooking, but makes keeping a wired probe in place in the food something of a problem.

  4. Trigonoceps occipitalis

    ... screen to show the thermal results

    The front of the microwave would be replaced with a screen to show adverts, and possibly be used for browsing the internet while you wait.


  5. Pet Peeve

    FLIR is cheap? I don't think so...

  6. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    How about FLIR capability in a smartphone?

    That would be much more useful, and I could use it with my 20 year old microwave to determine when my food is done!

    1. Sim

      Re: How about FLIR capability in a smartphone?

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: How about FLIR capability in a smartphone?

        That's nice, but a $300 accessory for an iPhone isn't quite there. I wonder how low the per unit pricing could be if it was built into all 200+ million iPhones sold per year? Of course, what it is good for that warrants its inclusion in every iPhone is another matter, so it isn't too likely even if it could be done for $5/ea...

        1. Ken Hagan Gold badge

          Re: How about FLIR capability in a smartphone?

          You can get them for cars, too, and that was always supposed to be the mass market application that brought prices tumbling down. These things are a lot cheaper than they used to be; 20 years ago, $300 wouldn't have bought the box your camera came in. But yeah, not quite "toys" yet. Perhaps the Chinese will oblige. FLIR-the-company is on the pricey end of the FLIR-the-product market.

          1. Anonymous Coward
            Anonymous Coward

            Re: How about FLIR capability in a smartphone?

            To do it right they'd need to determine where the driver's eyes are and superimpose the images via a HUD. After removing all the cars, of course, so what is left are humans/animals that might be ready to dash in front of your in the dark.

            By the time that sort of setup is affordable, self driving cars will be here, so most of us will never drive a car that can do that.

  7. Alister Silver badge

    Given that a consumer microwave oven is essentially a powerful radio transmitter on the 2.45GHz frequency band, I can see a problem trying to add WiFi or Bluetooth to one without undesirable bleedthrough...

  8. Robert Helpmann?? Silver badge


    While the microwave is a cute idea...this gear is vaporware and may never come to anything, like hoverboards from Back to the Future.

    You say "vaporware." They say "Hendo". I say "people who shouldn't be allowed to use their own product."

  9. Tempest8008

    Modernize the whole damned thing

    Instead of the spray and pray method of microwaving food why not add the ability to direct the waves? Gimbal the emitters and link the camera so it directs the microwaves where they need to go to heat the food in the desired manner.

    The first truly "smart" microwave.

    The screen, linking it to my phone...that's just faffing about. Make the device work better and I'm interested.

    1. hplasm

      Re: Modernize the whole damned thing

      "Gimbal the emitters... "

      And don't forget to reverse the polarity of the tachyon flux.

      1. John Brown (no body) Silver badge

        Re: Modernize the whole damned thing

        "Gimbal the emitters... "

        And don't forget to reverse the polarity of the tachyon flux.

        You'll need a flux capacitor too if you're going to interface it with the living room Interocitor.

  10. Colin 27


    I think what's being suggested here is that the Predator was a glorified microwave and Arnie was the pudding!

  11. Pascal Monett Silver badge

    "browsing the internet while you wait"

    Yeah, like I don't already have a tablet that can do that.

    Can we stop trying to find stupid excuses to wire everything up to the Internet ?

  12. Conundrum1885 Bronze badge

    Re. FLIR

    Cough Lepton /cough

  13. phil dude

    already out there?

    I had a Panasonic Microwave in Oxford that did "sense" the temperature of the food. I was amazed that you could microwave, thermal grill a burger in 4 mins... And some "stochastic" defrosting.... yeah, I thought that too, but it was effective.

    Perhaps monitored cooking is not so difficult as it appears, and may just be cost?

    Here in the US microwaves that can grill and bake are somewhat rare in the "big box" stores.


    1. JamesTQuirk

      Re: already out there?

      Here in OZ, they have Grill, Bake & Steamers Now in Microwaves !! (KMart), they keep adding bits & bobs. I don't mind some Tech, Like a Rice Cooker (even if it is just 12 mins in boiling water, 3 drops of cooking oil + salt), Also Rice Cookers can Do Small Stews, Rice dishes pretty well, in 1 pot, + I don't have to watch it & I can do other things, I like New Auto-Pressure Cookers, but only for Corned Beef, or precooking meat for a Stew. A Vertical Grill, Steamer, Microwave, Blender, & a few other contraptions under the bench ... So maybe combining it all is a good thing, in it clears bench space, but I think you lose some Versatility in what you can cook, cause in a microwave alone, in can be a Process, to assemble a meal for a few people, if it's all you got ...

      I might add the 45 year old Stainless Steel Saucepans, Frypans & Pots, are still in service, but only really the big pot, twice a month, to do 20 Meals to stick in Freezer, So when I do NUKE something, Least I know whats in it ....

      Food I don't like is ...

      1) Food where I can't see the Preparation Area,

      2) That's been played with too Much.

      These "masterchaf" & "MyKitchenFools" show's, ping me, They touch the food to much, try to do too much with it, & comes out, a mouthful on plate, GOOD FOOD is clean, simple, FRESH, not to play with like a toy before it is served ...

  14. Duncan Price

    Already been done with EU funding

    Several years ago I was working on a project involving the microwave heating of plastics. I had access to an industrial grade microwave oven which not only had completely variable power output but also a variable speed turntable. There were chokes in the side and top of the oven to allow viewing of the contents without microwaves leaking out. A military spec IR camera and image analysis software completed the experimental set up. The opportunity to misuse this equipment to heat one's lunch was recorded for posterity:

    Thermocouples and thermistors (even shielded ones) are not very good at measuring the temperature in a microwave field as they act as antennas and distort the results. As an alternative to thermal imaging we used fibre optic temperature sensors which work by measuring the decay time of a fluorescent agent when pumped with a flash gun.

    As has already been said, most modern domestic microwaves heat on a duty cycle by simply turning the filament in the magnetron on and off. It is a fairly simple hack to convert one into a continuously variable power output one using a variac.

    We had some pretty exciting times when our specimens caught fire inside the oven as hydrocarbon flames and smoke (containing finely divided carbon) couple very strongly with microwaves and things rapidly escalate.

  15. Lionel Baden

    not sure of the hate for IoT

    Would be kinda cool, to go to the kitchen pop your food on and it pings a small pop up on the telly or to your phone letting you know the food is ready, (include 2-3 minute standing time) It would be a useful little feature.

  16. sillyfudder


    XKCD .. What-if edition:

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