Welcome to Gadget Dreams and Nightmares, the column that's left wondering whether the latest gadget announcements suggest that now is our winter of discontent or if they're heralding a glorious summer.
On our slightly confused calendar this week are a countertop system said to replace every other cooking device, a gizmo that turns butter into a spray, a car that doubles as a movie theater, and a home robot.
As always, these are not reviews, and the ratings reflect only how much I'd like to try out each product.
The Joy of Not Cooking
Tovala is going to change everything, apparently. It's a countertop cooking system that acts as oven, microwave, toaster, broiler and steamer. It appears to have all the convenience of ready-made meals, while providing healthier eating options than a typical TV dinner.
While you can create your own dishes, Tovala offers its own meals created by professional chefs that are delivered fresh to your home in what could become an important revenue stream for the creators. When you scan a barcode on the meal container, Tovala will know exactly how to cook it. For instance, it might steam chicken for a few minutes before boiling at the end for better texture.
It's a neat idea, and as we're heading toward a future when people have less and less time to cook themselves, ensuring that quality and nutrition are not sacrificed in the name of convenience is a noble pursuit. I usually don't mind cooking and often have plenty of time to do so, but I wouldn't turn up my nose at Tovala.
Rating: 4 out of 5 Fast Foods
Can't Believe It's Melted Butter
Biēm is another device aimed at food convenience. If, like me, you despise cooking sprays and wish there were a better way to grease a pan without lading it with too much oil or butter, this might be for you.
It liquefies a stick of butter so you can spray it on your pot or food. Biēm is seemingly very quick in melting the butter, and it only melts what you need, saving the rest for later and ensuring it's not sitting on your counter full of liquefied goop for days on end.
Cleaning appears to be a cinch too, as adding water and a touch of soap where the butter goes, and heating and spraying the mixture is apparently all it takes.
While I'm mostly averse to single-purpose kitchen gadgets, the Biēm looks like it would be incredibly useful in any kitchen -- and especially to anyone who uses perhaps a little too much butter, like me.
Rating: 4 out of 5 Calorie Counters
Driving Movie Theater
I'm not someone who cares much for cars. That might be down to the fact that I'm only now learning to drive, a good way into my adult life. As far as I'm concerned, the sooner we can switch to driverless cars, the better.
Here's an idea from Ford that grabbed my attention, though, as I'm an avid watcher of film. While the car is taking care of getting you to your destination, the windshield turns into a projector screen, so you can kick back and watch the latest Marvel spectacular, or that odd arthouse flick you've been meaning to catch when you could squeeze out the time.
Should you need or want to take manual control of the car, the screen will vanish and you'll see a secondary dash display.
It's only a patented concept for now, so there's a chance that before this comes to market we might entirely bypass the idea that self-driving cars need to have a manual operation option as a failsafe, rendering the secondary display entirely moot.
I hope for a few things here: that the side and rear windows have a blackout option -- as there's nothing worse than watching a movie in brightly lit space -- and there's an outlet for a Tovala so I can use a Biēm for perfect buttery popcorn.
Rating: 4 out of 5 Road Trip Movies
Aid-ing You at Home
The way I see it, if you're going to have a hub to manage all of your connected home needs, it may as well be an adorable robot.
Aido includes speakers and six microphones so it can hear you in the noisiest of rooms.
It has haptic sensors that help it respond to your touch (for which you can set custom commands) and even has an optional projector, so you can watch your favorite movie or TV show wherever you are in your home.
Aido can roam around your home on its omnidirectional ball, with its sensors stopping it from crashing into your furniture.
It supports third-party devices using infrared, WiFi, Bluetooth and several other protocols. The robot can recognize faces and personalize lighting, for instance, based on that person's preferences. Meanwhile, it can act as a roaming home security system you can monitor remotely.
Aido runs on an open source system and takes its design cues from sleek dolphins. It's far more amiable than, say, a router that controls all your connected devices. It's the most charming hub I've seen to date, and whatever my misgivings about connected homes may be, I'd welcome Aido with open arms.
Rating: 5 out of 5 Anthropomorphic Faces-ECT