No matter how many recipes we read, cooking food the right way can take years of practice—with lots of trial, error, and burnt meals—but not with this new device. Pantelligent takes a frying pan, a smartphone app, and the smarts of four MIT alums to help you prepare a perfect meal, every time.
The idea for Pantelligent started as an inside joke. Humberto Evans ’08, whose mother owned her own restaurant, was a whiz in the kitchen and always cooking for his roommate, Mike Robbins ’08, MEng ’09. Evans encouraged Robbins to cook as well, but was only successful when he provided step-by-step instructions. “He behaves like a robot in the kitchen,” says Evans. “If you tell him to chop, he’ll do it but won’t stop until you tell him to. On his own he’s pretty lost.” If only, they would say, you could just build a robot to cook for you.
Six years later, while working in California on their code-based startup, CircuitLab, they began pursuing the cooking idea. Since a full-on robot chef seemed beyond their reach, they conceptualized a frying pan that could sense temperature and give cooking instructions accordingly. “It’s by no means a brand new idea,” says Humberto. “In fact, in the first-ever episode of the Jetsons in the 1960s, their cooking robot breaks and that’s when they have to buy Rosie. This is something that people have been dreaming about for years.”
Evans, CEO, and Robbins, CTO, were already working on CircuitLab with fellow MIT housemate Yuan Wei ’08, MEng ’09, lead programmer, when they brought on Kyle Moss ’13 as mechanical engineer and industrial designer for the pan. Since their first prototype in early 2014, they have developed a completely functional frying pan, with Bluetooth capability to connect to a smartphone and an app.
For the amateurs in the kitchen, the app walks you through every step after choosing a meat or even a specific recipe, telling you when the pan has reached the right temperature to begin cooking, when to flip the meat, and when it’s done. If you're cooking a one-inch steak to medium rare, for instance, Pantelligent uses thermal models of the cooking process—plus the live temperature data from the pan—to automatically adjust the cooking instructions.
Even for those who know their way around the kitchen, the pan helps to produce repeatable and reliable recipes. “Some people say, ‘do I really need this to cook an egg?’ says Evans. “Honestly, no, but your egg will be that much better if you do. And to cook amazing food every time the way chefs do, you have to learn the intuition for how long to cook something at the right temperature. We take all that knowledge and package it into our app.”
The alumni ran a successful Kickstarter campaign for Pantelligent at the end of last year and are hard at work bringing it to market. They are working with manufacturers to build the tooling and machinery needed to produce the pans and are on track to ship the advance units to the Kickstarter backers in August.
Prototypes of the product were featured on the NBC TODAY show, live on CBS This Morning, and one of Popular Science's “Top 10 Inventions of 2015.”