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Melt Smart Box: Grilled cheese a la tech (pictures)

Thanks to technology created by The Melt, it's now possible for the fastfood chain begun by the Flip Camera's creator to keep sandwiches hot and crunchy for up to 30 minutes during delivery.

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Daniel Terdiman
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1 of 12 Josh Miller/CNET

Smart Box

SAN FRANCISCO -- It's a problem that's plagued the restaurant industry for decades: There hasn't been a satisfactory system for delivering things like grilled cheese sandwiches that keeps the food hot and crunchy for more than a few minutes.

Until now. Today, San Francisco-based The Melt, founded by Flip Camera creator Jonathan Kaplan, unveiled its Smart Box, a device designed to make it possible to keep 18 of the company's signature grilled cheese sandwiches hot and crunchy for 30 minutes or more.

For the first time, that makes delivering the tasty lunch food possible in downtown areas. For now, only San Francisco will benefit, but the company hopes to roll out the delivery service to its other stores around California soon.

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2 of 12 Josh Miller/CNET

Box

The key to keeping the sandwiches hot and crunchy is air flow. That's helped by putting the sandwiches themselves inside this compostable container, which keeps the food elevated, and which has holes that allow air flow.

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3 of 12 Josh Miller/CNET

The boxes

A look at the compostable container, complete with ridges on which the food rests, as well as holes for air flow.

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4 of 12 Josh Miller/CNET

Smart box with sandwiches

Inside the Smart Box is an aluminum mass that's heated to 210 degrees before it's unplugged. There's also a fan and sensors designed to make sure the temperature doesn't fall too low, or that humidity doesn't cause too much moisture.

The sandwiches rest on racks inside the box.

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5 of 12 The Melt

Hair dryer

The very first iteration of the Smart Box was nothing more than a cardboard box with a hair dryer. Though no one would ever buy a sandwich that came out of such a container, the prototype proved it was possible to keep a grilled cheese sandwich fresh for more than 20 minutes.

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6 of 12 The Melt

Sample 2

A look down into the original Smart Box prototype, where the sandwiches were meant to be elevated on bamboo skewers.

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7 of 12 The Melt

Third prototype

Another early prototype for the Smart Box.

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8 of 12 Josh Miller/CNET

Pushing the Smart Box

Workers from The Melt deliver grilled cheese sandwiches to CNET's San Francisco headquarters.

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9 of 12 Josh Miller/CNET

Holes

Holes in the compostable container allow air flow to the sandwiches.

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10 of 12 Josh Miller/CNET

Down in it

A look down into the top of the Smart Box, where there's room for things like cookies, drinks, and other non-grilled-cheese items.

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11 of 12 Josh Miller/CNET

Four lined up

To date, The Melt has produced 10 of the Smart Boxes, four of which are seen here at the company's San Francisco headquarters. It hopes to produce between 10 and 20 more.

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12 of 12 Josh Miller/CNET

Compostable container

A look at the compostable container, which keeps the sandwiches from laying flat -- which can make them soggy quickly -- and which has holes for air flow.

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