And Finally

Marginal grains

Midea makes new ‘AI-controlled’ rice cooker


The $3,000 rice cooker

Rice cookers in their modern form emerged from 1950s Japan, with a thermostat-controlled cooking temperature that shuts off the heat when the rice is done. Some of the high-end cookers in Japan today cost as much as ¥90,000 ($850). Equipped with computer chips that react to moisture and temperature at much greater sensitivity, they can also adjust cooking parameters to account for human error. The goal is chewy, distinctive grains that hold together perfectly every time.

However, it is a Chinese appliance maker that has just set the record for the most expensive rice cooker ever made. That happened recently when home appliance giant Midea released an artificial intelligence-powered rice steamer that costs Rmb19,999 (almost $3,000).

So what’s the big deal about the new product? Manufactured under Midea’s high-end home appliance brand Colmo, the Blanc rice cooker is said to be able to distinguish between the 15 different types of rice most commonly cooked in the market. It then determines the best settings (i.e. the optimal levels of water and temperature) to produce perfectly plump variants of each type of rice with just the push of a button.

The process is fully automatic and there isn’t any need to measure out the rice in advance of each meal (the device has an imbedded compartment to store the grain) or even wash it.

The cooker doesn’t require cleaning after the rice is cooked either.

For those of us keeping an eye on carb intake, the cooker also scours the rice’s natural sugars with water, using a proprietary technology that reduces the sugars by half and increases resistant starch by about 23% (so that the rice stays chewy).

Midea has been working to ‘perfect’ the rice cooker for at least the last five years, partly inspired by Chinese Premier Li Keqiang’s lament that his compatriots felt they had to travel to Japan to buy the best of these kitchen appliances (see WiC383).

When the Wall Street Journal visited Midea’s headquarters in Guangdong in 2016 it reported that the company’s R&D team was getting through 200 tonnes of rice a year in its research. In the quest to produce a superlative cooker, the team had sent staff on tours of Japanese factories and hired technicians from South Korea too.

Critics still wonder if the claims about the new brand’s technology are overblown. “This AI rice cooker only performs calculations and controls through various sensor recognitions. What kind of ‘learning’ ability does it have?” asked the prolific blogger Tongwu Shidai.

And so far there don’t appear to be a lot of takers for the new king of the rice cookers on Tmall, the leading online sales platform.When WiC last checked the monthly sales were stuck at zero. As one netizen joked, “I am afraid that the rice I buy isn’t worthy of this rice cooker…”

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