I've seen recipes that require precise temperature control and had a potentially groundbreaking idea stem from it: how does the idea of fully-digital cooktop controls sound to all you cooks out there? We already have digital oven control systems, and even Wi-Fi ones, but the humble gas cooktop hasn't gotten much attention as far as improvements. Here's my idea:
No physical connection between the knob and the burner (fully-digital). The knobs would be encoders (clicky). The user sets a specific percentage of output (so 100% would be HIGH, 50% MEDIUM, 0% would be LOW, etc)
Thermocouple probes (way less expensive and more accurate than the IR I originally envisioned) integrated into the top grate (touching each pan) would continuously monitor the surface temperature of the pan.
When you pushed the knob in to ignite the burner, the little LED screen above each knob would ask you for the pan type (standard, cast-iron, or nonstick) before it'd let you ignite the burner.
Fully-automatic temp. control (the purpose of the system) possible by way of pan-temp sensors. E.g you can set it to maintain 350 Fahrenheit (or any temp. between 160-500 Fahrenheit) automatically. Full manual control (specific % of full heat) is still possible, but you'd have to push the desired control dial in to override the "autopilot". When you did that, there'd be a little tune like a plane makes, so you'd know YOU had full control.
When a pan is taken off the burner, there will be a rapid "dingdingdingding..." for 10 seconds, and then the burner would shut off.
-The cooktop's computer could override your input if it'd overheat a Teflon pan or burn the seasoning off a cast-iron one.
- Audible warning (ding) and burner starts to turn itself down if 450 Fahrenheit is reached with a Teflon pan or 475 Fahrenheit is reached with a cast-iron pan. This CAN be overridden by turning the dial up, but the computer won't let you push a Teflon/cast-iron pan past 500 Fahrenheit. If the pan reaches that temperature and continues to rise, there will be a rapid "dingdingdingdingding..." chime, the burner will immediately reduce to LOW (if it isn't there already) and about 10 seconds later the burner will shut off. If a standard pan ever hit 650 Fahrenheit, the burner would immediately shut off to prevent a cooking fire.
As far as redundancy, the fly-by-wire cooktop could run without any sensor input. It'd just lose automatic temperature control and would be unable to keep your cast-iron or Teflon pan from overheating. If the pan temperature sensors report a sudden fluctuating reading, automatic temperature control would shut off (to keep the burner from going crazy and damaging a pan), but the computer would still offer limited pan protection that you could completely override in case you knew that it was a false alarm. The servos that actually move the gas valves would probably be pretty reliable and it'd be pretty rare to need a new one. The whole system could be based on a $20-40 microchip controller.
What do you think? Would an automated system like this be useful to you?