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New Device Combines Net-surfing and Cooking

March 8, 2000

Japanese electronics makers are renowned for their ability to fit multiple functions into a single machine. One such company has come up with yet another unique combination: the Internet microwave oven. It follows cooking instructions taken from the Web to make dishes. Major manufacturers are all hurriedly developing appliances that can be controlled or can transmit and receive information over the Internet, and the new microwave is just one pioneering example of such "online appliances." Once this innovation takes root, it should make household appliances much more versatile and convenient.

Automated Cuisine
The Internet microwave that was launched in September 1999 takes recipe information downloaded from the Internet, such as ingredients, cooking directions, and automatic microwaving data, and uses that information to prepare food.

The user first accesses the maker's Website through a computer and downloads recipe data onto a memory unit that is connected to the microwave. About 400 dishes that can easily be cooked in a microwave are listed on the Website, including seasonal entrees, box lunches, and baby food.

All the necessary information, from the list of ingredients to cooking instructions, is displayed on the microwave's liquid crystal display panel. After preparing the ingredients according to these directions, the user simply puts the food into the microwave. The machine then uses the downloaded processing data to cook the food.

On top of that, the oven itself comes preprogrammed with more than 50 recipes, which are divided into eight categories according to their main ingredient, such as potato, Japanese radish, cabbage, and meat. As with using the Internet, instructions are displayed on the panel and the dishes are cooked automatically. The manufacturer claims that these recipes, which consist of ingredients that people commonly keep in stock, will be especially useful when the user cannot think of what to cook, when he or she is late home from work and does not have time to go shopping, or when guests turn up unexpectedly.

Remote-Control Home
Japanese manufacturers have traditionally been skilled at integrating multiple functions in a single machine. A good example is the radio-cassette recorder, which combines a radio and a tape recorder. As for combining the Internet and household appliances, an Internet television is already on sale that allows users to browse the Web with simple remote-control operations.

The online appliances that makers are currently racing to develop are a logical extension of this. By connecting home appliances to the Internet it will be possible to remotely control and check on the status of numerous machines using any portable Internet terminal, such as a laptop computer or mobile phone.

In order to operate most current electric appliances, the user must physically be close to the machine. Connecting appliances via the Internet to computers and other terminals will make them much more user-friendly. Users will, for example, be able to check the contents of their refrigerators and turn on house lights while they are out shopping. Furthermore, it will be possible for others to verify whether seniors living alone are drinking tea regularly--a sign that they are fine--just by looking at data from their electric hot-water pots.

If such net appliances prove popular, demand for electronics will surge as people trade in their old appliances, helping to activate the market. According to estimates by the home electronics industry, the value of the market for network-related goods, including peripherals and software, will rise to 23 trillion yen (219 billion U.S. dollars at 105 yen to the dollar) in Japan alone in the 10 years between 2001 and 2010. The Internet microwave may be the first pioneering step, if a small one, toward a new industry.

Trends in JapanEdited by Japan Echo Inc. based on domestic Japanese news sources. Articles presented here are offered for reference purposes and do not necessarily represent the policy or views of the Japanese Government.