Ovens can be scary. Fire hazards aside, their large size, time investment and oftentimes unreliable results can be intimidating to amateur cooks, which is why many seek escape in the form of take-out. Tackling the inefficiency of a kitchen appliance that hasn’t seen much innovation in decades is June: a new intelligent countertop oven about the size of a microwave that promises to be the beginning of a much-needed kitchen revolution.
The collective CVs from the June team are impressive: CEO Matt Van Horn was the co-founder of Zimride (now Lyft) and CTO Nikhil Bhogal is one of the inventors behind many of Apple’s camera patents. The two June co-founders met while working at Path and both dreamed of bringing their experience working in mobile to something more tangible, in the physical space. “We’d find, late at night, that we would start to get really hungry; we would spend so much time together at our places,” Van Horn tells CH. “And so we found ourselves cooking simple meals, and more elaborate meals, and looking around at the kitchen, there were a few things that bothered us.”
“One, the lack of innovation: there really hasn’t been any major innovation in the kitchen since the ’70s, with the microwave. And watching Mad Men, the kitchen there is nearly almost identical to the one in my home,” he continues. “It’s hard and takes a lot of time to get things right. [You’re] afraid that you’re going to undercook or overcook something; there’s just a lot of anxiety that comes with cooking. And so we wanted to take all of our experience… working in hardware products and mobile and apply that to the kitchen, to build the best home oven that the world has ever seen.”
They assembled a team of now 22 engineers and designers, whose past experience ranges from Nest products to GoPro, Facebook and Square, and brought on Ammunition (the design firm behind Beats by Dre) to collaborate. “The important part was maximizing the space of the cavity,” says Ammunition senior designer, Jonas Lagerstedt, of the June design. “We moved all of the interface to the door, so the full front door is a seamless piece of glass, with the interface behind it, and we moved all of the electronics to the back. It’s very friendly and it really stands proud on the countertop.”
Three main sensors in the June oven all help monitor the cooking process as well as recommend the best way to cook a certain dish. First, there are two ports inside the cavity where you can connect heat-safe temperature probes (similar to what we’ve seen with the standalone Range smart thermometer, but incorporated within the oven) to stick directly into anything from proteins to pies while they’re cooking. The reasoning behind two ports is for bigger dishes like a whole chicken, where the breast and thighs, for example, cook at different rates. There’s also a separate temperature sensor in the internal cavity. Second, the top of the oven doubles as a weight scale and can measure up to 35 pounds. Finally, a built-in HD camera gives you an overhead view of what’s cooking—and with the cloud-streaming platform the June team built, it’s accessible from your iPhone or iPad. This saves the worried cook the inconvenience of continually returning to the kitchen and opening the oven door to check on the dish’s status (and as a consequence, affecting the temperature). Taking it a step further, June’s team has also integrated a time-lapse recording feature so you can share what you’re baking—a new social media-friendly tool that food bloggers can add to their arsenal.
“It’s actually running a very high-end processor. Behind the five-inch touchscreen is this board—a NVIDIA Tegra K1, which is a quad-core processor running at 2.3 GHz with 2GB of RAM, so something you would expect in a modern, high-end [laptop] or mobile phone,” says Bhogal, noting that Google’s Nexus line uses the same processor.
“We wanted to add true intelligence, not just ‘smarts,’ to the oven,” says Bhogal. “So we built—using state-of-the-art machine learning and deep learning algorithms—a food recognition engine that lets the oven recognize the food in it. The traditional case of how you do steak at home is you put it in a pan, keep flipping it over, and cut into it to see if it’s the right amount of pink or poke it and see if the firmness is right. But with the June, you would open the door, put the steak in, insert the core temperature thermometer and close the door. By the time the door is closed, June knows it’s a steak, how much it weighs, and what the starting temperature is. So it’s able to intelligently recommend a cooking program that will raise the internal temperature to your preference. It will ask you what your preference is—so in my case, it’s usually medium-rare—which means the internal temperature needs to between 130 and 135, and it will cook that for you. And when the cooking’s done, it will send your phone a personal notification.” In the meantime, if you’re more of an anxious cook, you can launch the iOS app to see the live-stream of what the steak is looking like.
To achieve their mission of building a “best-in-class” oven with great thermodynamics, the June team researched inefficiencies of traditional ovens and updated them, like having two convection fans (instead of one, or none) as well as a door with three panes of glass (two of which are thermally coated) to conserve heat. And most importantly, an upgrade to the heating technology. While traditional ovens have metal tubes that run at the bottom or top, and take a couple of minutes to heat up to full temperature—which explains long pre-heat times. June has carbon fiber heating elements in lieu of metal wires which can go from room to target temperature in about three seconds. “So the moment you start cooking, within three seconds, they’ll be glowing to their full brightness and dumping heat in the cavity,” says Bhogal. “It drastically cuts your pre-heat time and improves the stability of temperature, because when your food starts to suck in heat, they can instantaneously respond to dump more energy to keep a constant temperature.” To sum it up: dinner can be made much quicker.
Pre-orders for the June Intelligent Oven begin today. A $95 deposit will offer access to the promotional price of $1495. Beta units will ship in fall 2015, while the mass-produced units will ship in spring of 2016 at a suggested retail price of around $2995.
Images courtesy of June