In spite of their fragility, Kyle O’Reilly knows you can’t take cracking an egg for granted.
Part of a team of engineers out of Oregon State University, O’Reilly and his invention, called the Automatic Egg Cracker, will compete in this year’s Invent Oregon Collegiate Challenge in June. The big idea is simple: create a push-button egg cracker that can crack open an egg with minimal force and minimal user involvement.
It seems simple, but the Automatic Egg Cracker is more than meets the eye.
As a young emergency medical technician, O’Reilly encountered a woman whose arthritis had become so bad, she couldn’t reproduce the movement—and it left her unable to bake without pain.
“It was sort of devastating to her to suddenly realize she doesn't have this capability of this dexterity anymore because of her developing arthritis,” O’Reilly said. “I just kept thinking about that. And I went on to see, like, there must be something out there to help people with that.”
Turns out that the existing tools are poor substitutes. There are a few egg crackers on the market, but most of them are complicated. Some work like a pair of pliers, crushing the egg. Some act as a glove-like vise. None of them work the way O’Reilly’s baker needs them to.
“I did try one of them and they have a horrible, horrible success rate,” O’Reilly said. “The person puts the egg in, squeezes it, cracks the egg and throws shell all over the place and makes a mess.”
The team’s expectations for the Automatic Egg Cracker are rigorous. The goal is to be able to crack an egg with the single touch of a button. A user should be able to place the egg on top of the machine, at which point the machine would roll it onto the chopping block. Once ready, the device cracks the egg and disposes of the shell without the user being involved at all.
“Getting it up to the standard that I want it to be is going to be a big challenge,” said O’Reilly. “I want perfection every time. Right now we have a very high success rate, but not a perfect success rate. And just chasing after that constant improvement is going to be a big challenge.”
To be considered ADA-accessible, the device can require no more than 5 pounds of force or more than one hand to operate.
That isn’t good enough for someone who lacks the strength or dexterity—or suffers a prohibitive amount of pain—to crack an egg manually. As it turns out, that’s a large swath of Americans. The CDC reports that almost a quarter of all Americans suffer from some kind of arthritis. They may be people, like O’Reilly’s baker, who have enjoyed baking their entire lives.
“We're really looking at people who have limited accessibility, specifically in the kitchen,” said Wade. “We're looking at this to open up the world, the world of cooking again to people who have either never been able to enjoy it or have been limited in some way and can't do it anymore.”