Of all the ordinary things we can now link up to our smartphones and tablets–watches, scales, cars and even those dumb slabs that serve as our front doors–the humble kitchen thermometer doesn’t seem like an especially exciting candidate. But imagine being able to pore over graphs of botched loaves when trying to perfect the elusive art of at-home bread baking. Or being able to keep an eye on the temperature of a bird in the oven while running to the store to grab some forgotten supply. Or even just being able to monitor its temperature without opening the oven in the first place. That’s the appeal of Range, the smart kitchen thermometer you probably never knew you wanted in the first place.
Range was created by Supermechanical, an Austin-based design studio founded by MIT Media Lab alums David Carr and John Kestner. It comes in two varieties: a shorter, ember-colored version for meats, and a longer aqua one for sauces, candies, cheeses, beers and the like. Both plug into the headphone jack of your iPhone or iPad and communicate with a companion app. In portrait mode, it gives you a simple interface for setting the temperature with one finger. In landscape, it lets you look at graphs of past dishes, quantifying your kitchen triumphs and letting you fine-tune family recipes.
The smart thermometer isn’t Supermechanical’s first foray into the internet of things. Last year, after a half-million dollar Kickstarter bonanza, the team shipped Twine, a compact box that serves as a flexible, intuitive way to get your house connected to the internet. It’s hard to explain exactly what it does; part of the allure is that you can use Twine’s temperature, moisture, and movement sensors however you want. What makes it all work, though, is how thoroughly non-technical the whole thing is. All of Twine’s tech is packed inside the rubbery aquamarine unit, and a friendly web-based UI helps you get everything set up. Carr and Kestner knew they wanted to take that approach to a more specific-mass market product for their next effort, and throughout their research for Twine they kept hearing the same request: an intuitive, smart temperature-taking device designed specifically for the kitchen.
Of course, digital thermometers aren’t hard to come by. But good ones are. “There’s nothing out there that feels as good as my other kitchen tools,” Kestner says. “It’s all the consumer electronics approach with cheap, creaky plastic shells and UIs that unimaginatively copy analog thermometers.” Range couldn’t just be smart; it had to be a good thermometer, too. That meant minimizing components by optimizing the circuit design, and stuffing it all inside a useful (and eminently touchable) silicone hook.
Still, Range is geared towards professionals and enthusiasts. “I hope we hit the sweet spot for a lot of people, but Range is designed specifically for that person that takes cooking for their friends and family seriously, and is a student of their craft much as a really good craft brewer, chocolatier or chef is,” Kestner says. “Call this person a semi-pro, maybe. But since it’s not their day job, they don’t have the time or resources to devote to industrial equipment and industrial interfaces.” Certain features were included for certain specialties. The one-finger temperature-setting interface will let you set rising and falling alerts, for example–something that yogurt-makers asked for. The landscape mode graphs time-temperature and overlays past runs of the same recipe, as requested by data-driven brewers and chocolatiers.
After Twine, building a specialized product like Range was a different experience for the designers, but not necessarily an easier one. “In some ways it’s less stressful, but that’s offset by a new audience that will be less forgiving of rough edges,” Kestner explains. Ultimately, though, their vision for smart, ordinary devices is something that stayed consistent through the design of both products. “The Supermechanical philosophy is about making connected objects that don’t feel electronic, and we wanted to design something that belongs in the jar with your other kitchen utensils.” Kestner says. “No batteries or wireless troubleshooting, and a durable silicone clip-on handle. Range is a tool, and tools disappear into the task.”
Supermechanical is currently running a Kickstarter campaign to finish up the development of the product. You can get either version of Range with a pledge of $49.
[Source: Kyle Vanhemert @ Wired]