A backpack burned me at CES 2024, but only to prove a point. I was handling Willtex's new Willcook, which may be the world's first wearable oven.
You read that right. The Willcook is a backpack that can cook food inside of it. Why would you want this?
Well, beyond the obvious applications for hikers and campers, there are some days when you get home from work and you just don't want to cook dinner, right? The commute drained you, and the effort to collect the ingredients and then wait for them to boil and bubble to perfection is tedious. Wouldn't it be better if you could cook while you work, walk, or commute home?
Okay, so maybe that's a reason. What I found more fascinating though, is how Willtex turned an unassuming, black backpack into a portable toaster oven. Like most backpacks, there are multiple compartments on the Willcook, but only two that matter: the cooking compartment and the battery pack.
In the battery pocket is a shockingly small 5V rechargeable battery pack, the kind you might buy online for around $20 / £20. A cable snakes out of this to a round connector with the word 'Hotopia' on it, which is attached to the inside of the 'oven' compartment. That compartment has silver mesh fabric on one side, and it's where Willtex's main innovation resides.
You see, the Japanese brand is first and foremost a textile company, and it developed a thin mesh fabric with what it describes as an "embedded heat ray." The company claims the compartment can get hot enough to slow-cook food while you're on the move (or doing other things). "It can cook meat, fish, curry," they told me. The company already sells a smaller version of the Willcook in Japan.
I was skeptical, and they encouraged me to stick my hand in the compartment. I expected a warming pocket; I was wrong. I felt like I'd just touched the interior of a hot oven, and snapped my hand back in shock and a tiny bit of pain. The company execs laughed like this was a common occurrence.
To prove that the portable oven not only gets hot, but reaches maximum heat in five seconds, I was handed what appeared to be the cooking pocket removed from the backpack. There was some copper-colored mesh fabric sewn onto a yellow fabric back to create a pocket. It was room-temperature. I noticed a wire running off of the pocket, which the Willtex folk attached to another small Willcook battery back. They then told me to put my hand in this pocket. I hesitated, and then slid my hand inside. Within a few seconds, I felt the heat radiating off the fabric. I quickly removed my hand, since I had no interest in getting burned again.
I'm not sure about the practicality of the backpack, which can cook food but isn't watertight. I guess you could seal your meal ingredients in a water-tight, oven-safe Ziplock (the backpack oven pouch can accommodate about 2 liters) and let it slow-cook sous vide-style. You bring your backpack to work, and let it cook throughout your day (imagine the looks you'll get when your coworkers smell what you're cooking). Even so, it's obvious to me, and to Willtex, that fast-heating, low-powered fabric has other applications.
That heatable fabric could be sewn into almost any clothing (except for a bathing suit, I assume). Willtex showed me a large winter coat. It was cool to the touch, but as soon as they attached a small battery pack to a waiting port, the inside grew warm. Now this is something I could use.
Willtex expects to bring the Willcook wearable oven to the US in September, and it'll retail for approximately $200.
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A 35-year industry veteran and award-winning journalist, Lance has covered technology since PCs were the size of suitcases and “on line” meant “waiting.” He’s a former Lifewire Editor-in-Chief, Mashable Editor-in-Chief, and, before that, Editor in Chief of PCMag.com and Senior Vice President of Content for Ziff Davis, Inc. He also wrote a popular, weekly tech column for Medium called The Upgrade.
Lance Ulanoff makes frequent appearances on national, international, and local news programs including Live with Kelly and Ryan, Fox News, Fox Business, the Today Show, Good Morning America, CNBC, CNN, and the BBC.