When it comes to cooking, I consider myself a minimalist. Yet there are more electric motors in my kitchen than an all-wheel-drive Tesla. I have my stick blender for blending soups, my standing blender for shakes, my food processor for salsas and sauces, my KitchenAid stand mixer for cakes and doughs—then of course I have a burr grinder for coffee, a blade grinder for spices, and, I’d bet, one of those vibrating milk frother things in the junk drawer if I ever looked. Clearly, this is an absurd excess, but exactly what the kitchen industry imagined doing since the 1950s, when concepts frequently featured a motor in every cabinet door.
But what if progress is something else entirely? What if it’s about appliances that can eliminate motors and electricity? That’s the idea behind the Pino, designed as a master’s thesis in eco-social design by Manuel Immler during his time at the University of Bolzano. Think of the Pino like a multiuse KitchenAid stand mixer. However, instead of using a motor, it’s powered by your own muscles. You simply crank, and the Pino can stir.
“Who (with two healthy hands) needs an electrical pepper grinder or an electric knife?” writes Immler over email. “I wanted to create a more sustainable take on product design, trying to ask, what is sufficient? How much is enough?”
As it turns out, the Pino may be enough, because although it’s mechanical, it’s built to be a lot more capable than the classic mechanical egg beater. The Pino is built like a three-speed bike that can be fitted with different attachments for different tasks. At the lowest speed you don’t get much rotation, but you do get a lot of torque, which is ideal for grinding coffee or mincing meat. At the medium speed, you can mix liquids or chop veggies. In the high-speed gear, if you’re willing to put forth some muscle power, the gears will rotate 11x for every one turn of your arm. That makes it go very fast for whipping cream or frothing egg whites into a stiff meringue. In fact, the Pino can reach 1,000 rpm, or about four times the speed you get out of a KitchenAid mixer. You might not have the forearms to sustain that power, but Immler estimates you can use the device for about 5 minutes in most modes without getting tired. (Immler also clarifies that you can’t quite reach the speeds of your blender with the Pino, but speculates that adding a foot pedal, like an old sewing machine, could make it feasible.)
Being self-powered makes the Pino attractive, but its greater appeal may be that it’s also easily repairable. The wooden side panel unscrews to let you swap in a new finish or color, rather than replacing the whole device as your tastes change. Removing the panel also reveals all of the gears, which can be easily removed and swapped should one break. Meanwhile, when a circuit board or motor goes bad in an appliance, most of us will just throw it out.
Yes, the Pino is built more like a bike than a car. That means it requires some work to use. But that’s also the whole idea.
“We have too many products that last only a short time and create a lot of waste. We are used to being offered the most convenient solutions. But if you want to live sustainably, not everything can be convenient,” says Immler. “Maybe some tasks take a little more time than before, maybe some tasks are a little more demanding.”
As of now, Immler has built the Pino as a working prototype, with 3D-printed gears. Knowing he’s only a designer by trade, he’d like to partner with an engineer who could polish the design for decades of durability and a company that might help him bring the full product to market.
If that day comes, sign me up. Because I just can’t be that guy who needs a full-fledged power strip on his counter.