Approaching the kitchen of the future with LineCook (hands-on)

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As a foodie who can't cook, the idea of the LineCook excited me the most of all the cool ideas displayed when the FirstBuild factory opened its doors to the public in July. With the ability to build prototypes on a small scale, FirstBuild can work with new ideas much more freely than what would be feasible in a mass-manufacturing environment. At launch, it had four unique prototypes ready to showcase its vision for reimagining appliances. The LineCook technology could potentially be my favorite when it's ready for the market.

Built into an oven -- which oven has yet to be determined -- LineCook lets you scan the barcode or QR code of your prepackaged food, then it'll take care of the cooking for you. You'll still have to unwrap it, put it in, and take it out yourself, but the LineCook will set the temperature and let you know the appropriate time to complete each subsequent task. It's certainly the next big step in fool-proofing the cooking process. For now, since it's still in development, no information on release date, pricing, or availability has been announced.

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Colin West McDonald/CNET

The list of foods that actually work with the system is still being compiled, and that will be the case for some time. For now, as they refine the prototype, the FirstBuild team is crafting a cloud-based database. Eventually they hope that database will be robust enough to recognize any food with a QPC, QR, or bar code. Partnering with grocery store or manufacturer lists could help them take a big leap forward, but FirstBuild isn't just relying on cooperation from these big companies.

It'll also look to refine both the database and the device itself via a limited release to interested cooks and DIY enthusiasts. It'll essentially be a LineCook beta test. Participants will be able to add food information to the database themselves. They can also add preferences to the system. FirstBuild's LineCook will then not only have a number of extra recipes, but the database can start to recognize different versions of those recipes. If the process is successful, not only will LineCook be able to bake a frozen pizza for you, but you can tell it if you want that pizza to have soft or crispy crust.

The LineCook will need a Wi-Fi connection to work, since its ability to read recipes comes from the cloud, but FirstBuild hopes to eventually make it even more technologically advanced. GE already allows users to remotely control certain double wall ovens with their Brillion app, and it'll be expanding its line of connected oven ranges soon. The LineCook could see a similar expansion rollout once its database and recognition technology is closer to completion.

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This scans the code into your oven. Colin West McDonald/CNET

The FirstBuild team recognizes that connectivity can't make great food on its own. Thus, they are not content to simply expand databases and compatibility with mobile devices, they also aim to make it fully integrated in ovens with all manner of heat sources.

Advantium ovens stand to gain the most from something like this. Advantium is GE's high-end take on the microwave. It cooks with microwaves, radiant heat, and convection. By combining all three, it can function as a normal oven in a fraction of the time. I've tasted steak cooked in one and found it delicious. The trouble with Advantium is the complexity. Because of the different methods of combining heat sources at its disposal, it's much easier to rely on preprogrammed recipes than to tinker with different times for each mode of cooking on your own.

If an Advantium oven had LineCook technology, scanning a barcode would be enough to tell it which heat sources to use and how long to use them to produce an ideal result. GE's most advanced cooking appliance could be made extremely simple to use, and it's a stated goal of the FirstBuild team to make this smart combination happen.

Advantium is a good place to start, but if LineCook is to become universal, it also needs to recognize and account for all of the variables of standard ovens in its preprogrammed recipes. Gas and electric ovens will cook food differently, as will the inclusion of convection fans.

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GE would need to do some work to integrate this tech across its ranges. Colin West McDonald/CNET

Additionally, building in a way for the LineCook to sense temperature would help it account for any unexpected differences between one prepackaged product and another. Recipes are great, but it's hard to completely replace a watchful eye when it comes to cooking something just they way you like it. The beta testing will help, as will the customized options, but to get it exactly right, LineCook will need the ability to not only recognize the ideal, but be able to sense well enough to adapt to oddities.

As it stands, LineCook is a great idea with enormous potential. Expanding it to include all manner of foods with a variety of user preferences will take a lot of work, as will properly adjusting it and its database to various forms of oven technology. However, if FirstBuild can land close to its ambitious goals, the LineCook stands to be an integral part in making a truly smart kitchen.

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FirstBuild LineCook Oven

Part Number: CNETFirstBuild LineCook Oven
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