Micro Controllers: Key to Smarter Appliances

By DeVry University

As you’re using the microwave to prepare your favorite snacks for the big game, consider this: That microwave doesn’t just help prepare the feast for your football-loving friends. It may hold the key to the future.

As common and simple as they are to use, microwaves can all too easily be programmed for the wrong amount of time. The end result can be either leftovers that are ice cold in the middle, or coffee that wakes you up with third-degree burns.

To mitigate that, modern microwaves now include buttons that read “defrost” or “bake,” with high-end models even allowing you to choose the specific food or beverage you’re trying to warm up to ensure that it’s cooked properly.

But have you ever wondered exactly how your microwave knows the difference between warming up your hot cocoa, melting your cheese dip or heating a hotdog?

“Micro controllers,” says DeVry University professor Saeed Jellouli. “They’re basically micro computers that are put into most devices nowadays to do things we often take for granted. Basically, they add intelligence.”

These tiny, inexpensive computers may be the size of your thumbnail, but they hold untold potential for the future of your appliances and everyday life.

Take the microwave example. Right now, the user has to choose the specific food or characteristics of preparation in order for it to be warmed properly. Accidently hit “bake” instead of “defrost” and your meal may not be what you’d hoped when you take it out.

Jellouli sees and teaches his coding and hardware students about a future where micro controllers take all the work away from the user.

“Your microwave will know the second you put something in whether it’s warming up chicken, beef or soup,” Jellouli says.

If this sounds far-fetched, it’s not. It’s already been done with a different appliance.

“They designed micro controllers for washing machines more than 20 years ago that could sense the weight of the load, fiber density, color,” Jellouli said. “Why it never took off or hasn’t been used more now I have no idea, but I predict it will happen. It’s perfectly doable.”

Food for thought, indeed.