A revolutionary new oven promises to combine the best features of convection and microwave technology, enabling home users to cook foods to restaurant-type quality within a few minutes.
Introduced at the Freescale Technology Forum (FTF) in Austin, Texas this week, the proof-of-concept oven uses solid state radio frequency (RF) technology in a way that allows foods to be thoroughly cooked through, eliminating the hot and cold spots that are commonplace in foods heated in a microwave. Engineers at FTF showed off the concept in the show's Tech Lab by preparing steak filets with vegetables and potatoes in a scant four minutes. "It doesn't overcook the food, retains the maximum amount of nutritional value and, at the same time, keeps the moisture," Dan Viza, RF strategy and product marketing engineer for Freescale said.
The key to the new concept is its use of a closed-loop, solid state architecture that controls the RF energy and monitors the cooking activity. It accomplishes that by directing the phase angle and frequency of the signal, which varies between 2.4 and 2.5 GHz. By controlling frequency, the oven can remove hot and cold spots in the food in the forward and backward directions. Changing the phase angle allows it to do the same thing in the lateral, or side-to-side directions.
Onboard intelligence enables the oven to monitor cooking activity and "know" what changes need to be made. It does that by measuring the energy as it leaves the antenna (bigger ovens use more than one antenna) and measuring it as it is reflected back. When all the energy is reflected back, the system deduces that the food has reached its maximum temperature.
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"At all times, you know how much energy is being introduced and how much is bouncing back to you, so you know how much is being consumed," Viza said.
The ability to monitor its performance is one of the ways the concept oven distinguishes itself from a microwave. Microwaves, which use RF energy at roughly the same frequency, can't monitor the cooking process and can't offer different power and frequency levels. "Intelligence allows this new technology to see if something's interfering with the cooking, and then change the frequency so it won't interfere," noted Freescale spokesman Brian Thorsen.
Another of the oven's distinguishing features is its use of the Internet. Using an Internet of Things approach, it can transmit, collect, and store information about various recipes, enabling it to learn and tailor each cooking process to the food it's preparing. "This opens the door to a disruptive business model," Viza said.
Freescale engineers said they foresee the technology being used in a variety of shapes and sizes. It could be built as a countertop device or built-in appliance for the home. It could also serve as a baking, roasting, or even a pizza oven in commercial cooking applications. Shapes include a traditional square or cylinder. At the show, Freescale showed off a cylindrical version of the oven, dubbed Sage and created in conjunction with Frog Design. "This communicates to the industry that an oven doesn't have to be a box," Viza said.
Freescale expects OEM versions of the technology to hit the market in 2016. "It will probably be a premium product in the beginning because it's new, different, and does things that no one has ever seen before," Viza said.
Senior technical editor Chuck Murray has been writing about technology for 31 years. For Design News, he has covered electronics, automation, fluid power, and autos. He wrote his first article about electric cars in 1988.