Unattended cooking is a common occurrence and is the cause of 90% of domestic fires. Multiple distractions (such as tending children, surfing the net and answering the phone) may result in prolonged absences which lead to cooking fires. While unattended cooking is a possibility in all domestic situations, elderly are increasingly susceptible due to a decline in physical and mental capabilities.
Elderly fear their domestic independence will be lost if they are unable to care for themselves and being able to cook safely is an essential part of maintaining their wellbeing and independence. Interviews with elderly mental health Psychiatrists and Occupation Therapists (Auckland District Health Board) confirmed that, risks associated with cooking for elderly patients experiencing cognitive dysfunction contributed significantly to these patients being placed into residential care units.
While many solutions exist to extinguish fires after they have started, there are few products designed to prevent kitchen fires. Extensive research indicated that stovetops are the dominant source of kitchen fires, and that a retrofittable solution is the most suitable option to provide on-going assurance for elderlies. Due to elderlies cognitive decline, they are often associated with a high risk of cooking fires.
The ‘Cookaware’ ceramic electric cooktop is an aesthetically pleasing and highly functional design proposal that provides an easily retrofittable, safer and more informative cooking system. Cookaware is designed as a plug-in cooktop that sit on top of an existing stovetop to effectively use space as well as to utilise the existing rangehood facilities. The Cookaware base system allows it to fit on top of any existing stovetop or oven, once the functionality of the existing stovetop has been disconnected by an electrician. To create a safer and more informative cooking process, an innovative smart cooking system has been developed to alert, monitor and intervene (if necessary) while cooking. The interface is intuitive and uses simple icons, buttons and layout. Additional technologies such as , temperature sensors, are used to control and maintain an appropriate cooking temperature when users select either the boil or fry function. When the “boil” function is selected, the temperature is automatically regulated, at an appropriate simmering level, for a preselected time once boiling has been reached. If the “fry” function is selected, the temperature is correspondingly regulated to prevent burning.
A visual communication system confirms the cooking status of each element using coloured light strips that represent different cooking modes. When cooking is in progress an orange light appears around the element being used. Proximity sensors are positioned below the surface of the light strips to monitor hand movements associated with stirring. These are able to detect an incidence of unattended cooking, which results in a red light warning response, as well as a voice prompt activating every 15 seconds saying “Cooking is unattended, stir to resume”. If cooking remains unattended for 2 minutes the element automatically turns off.