The Return of the Kitchen Computer

A while ago, I made a list of my ten most beautiful computers, which ignited some heavy debate since Cray wasn’t mentioned. Anyway, one of the items on the list was the Honeywell Kitchen Computer, the H316. This was a very basic and incredibly difficult to handle machine which was supposed to store and display recipes, but its most awesome feature was a built-in cutting board. Despite its ridiculousness, I think it’s a beautiful piece of design, a pre-cursor to a type of computer everyone in the ’50s thought we would have now (get it?). Well, the idea of a kitchen computer is supposed to make a comeback. Update: Eugenia just pointed me to a photo her husband took of the H316 at the Computer History Museum in California, as well as a product photo of Be, Inc.’s take on the kitchen computer.

Back when the idea of computers first started penetrating the public mind, people starting having all these crazy and whacky ideas of what computers would look like in the future. The idea of a kitchen computer had its feet firmly planted in those trains of thought, but despite the awesomeness of the H316, it never really caught on – which could have something to do with the fact that the H316 required a two-week programming course with the switch-and-lights operated device before you could actually work with it.

Having a computer in your kitchen doesn’t actually sound like too weird of an idea. I know some people who have a TV in their kitchen (that’s rare over here though) and sometimes a radio. Having a computer would mean that you don’t have to print the recipes to use those in your kitchen, or that you have to move your laptop there. It could also play music in any format you wish, some video, you name it. This could be a market – if done right.

El Reg thinks that a recently announced product by ARC, a manufacturer of embedded systems, is something that could make it a whole lot easier for OEMs to make these devices. The Media Phone is a stack designed from the silicon up, meaning it has all the audio and video chips as well as codecs necessary to play audio and video. It’s also instant-on, with access to the internet. This type of device, like the Jogger from O2 and the Hub from Verizon, is perfect for use in the kitchen. With ARC’s solution, the OEM “only” has to build its own user interface, and shove it in a box.

What interests me the most – and you too, probably – is the operating system this thing runs on. It is powered by the MQX Embedded Operating System, which is a real-time operating system with a small footprint and – obviously – a microkernel. This thing isn’t even listed on Wikipedia, so I had to dig a little deeper to find more information about it. I found said information, and it’s all quite interesting. MQX is found in lots of devices around the world, and is tightly integrated with Freescale’s CodeWarrior tools to make development for and with it easier. Source code is available, and you’re free to do with it as you please. Support is limited to PowerPC and ColdFire processors, though. You can request a free evaluation kit.

It wouldn’t be too hard to turn this Media Phone platform into a modern-day H316. The design is already here, folks, and so are the internals. All I’m waiting for is for some genius to add the two together, and I’m buying it.


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