On the phone with his sister Prachi in New York one day, software engineer Rahul Baxi was being reprimanded by her for his unhealthy eating habits.
“I always eat out because I don’t know how to cook,” said Rahul Baxi. “My sister, who is a nutritionist, didn’t like the fact that I was doing it every single day, and told me, ‘You need to start cooking at home.’”
Easier said than done. Baxi describes himself as culinarily-challenged. In past attempts, he has either not put the right amount of ingredients, or has ended up with food so overcooked, it’s inedible. Why even make the effort, if the results aren’t worth the time and effort it took?
Prachi had a simple idea for her brother: “How about you create a pan that does the simple things for you, such as take the temperature or measure the amount of food, and lets you know whether you have the ingredients right?”
Baxi got out his toolbox and began tinkering. Enter "SmartyPans," a smart pan that, he hopes, will revolutionize cooking for those like him who could use a bit of extra help in the kitchen.
Now based in downtown Oakland, Baxi, 28, is from Adelaide, Australia. He came to the U.S. to attend Carnegie Mellon University, and now works for a company that creates financial software for banks and institutions.
With Jonathan David of Biorenew Labs in the Los Angeles area serving as an advisor, and his sister as another advisor, the team, headed by Baxi, hopes to bring this smart pan called “SmartyPans” to market for a retail price of $189.
Working from a prototype he has made from a pan he bought on Amazon, Baxi has determined that SmartyPans will have a temperature and humidity sensor as well as a scale beneath the surface. And then there will be a computer chip that continuously transmits information to the app. Those instruments will capture the basic information from what’s cooking in the pan. As the cook approaches the pan with her phone, the app will sense that it’s nearby, and start transmitting information about what’s happening in the pan in real time to the phone.
“Existing recipe instructions are static, and don’t take into account what’s going on inside the pan,” said Baxi. “The app will be constantly monitoring and changing instructions in real time, to tell you exactly what needs to be done.” For example, if you’re filling the pan with liquid, and you’re working from a recipe selected from its database, it will tell you when there’s enough, and tell the user to stop.
When asked why not just take a few cooking lessons, Baxi said that there are many working professionals like him who will never find the time to make that a priority.
Recipes are only as good as those who use them, he said, noting, the same thing is true for the various recipe apps out there. “Once you add technology to the pan, it gives you a lot more insight into what’s actually going on. It helps you cook better, as it gives you instructions to do things you don’t usually do.”
When further pushed that it might actually be easier to learn how to cook rather than use such sophisticated technology, Baxi had a good answer for that, too.
“The beauty of this pan is that there’s no integration required,” he said. Tech luddites will have nothing to configure. “The mobile device near the pan will know there’s a smart pan right there, and connect with that pan, you don’t have to do any configuration whatsoever.”
The recipe database will also help give calorie counts and other nutritional information.
While Baxi’s prototype is rather primitive, the team is looking to raise funds on indiegogo to build one that will look and work like the proposed pan.
If it fails, the pan will get made regardless, he said. Noting that his L.A.-based advisor has some connections with major retailers, Baxi says they’ll go directly to consumers if the crowdfunding doesn’t work out. “No matter what, we’re still building the pan,” he said.
“When I cook, there’s so much guesswork involved,” Baxi concluded. “Cooking, or any mundane task, should not be that difficult given the amount of technology we use on a day-to-day basis. These things should be really easy, but I don’t think that we use technology in a way we should be using it.”