When devices conflict: Cell phone vs. "magic" oven

    Consumer Reports News: August 17, 2009 02:39 PM

    So your spouse calls from the mall to tell you to order a large pepperoni pizza for dinner—and your cell phone fires up your stove's broiler in protest???

    Bizarre as that sounds, a Brooklyn man says his phone seems to be turning on his gas range, according to a report from 1010WINS, a New York-based news radio station. When the phone is within a few feet of the stove, an incoming call causes the Maytag Magic Chef stove to beep, light up the digital display, and set the broiler a-blazing.

    Our engineers weren't all that shocked to hear this (pun intended). As more devices and appliances adopt digital technology, there are more digital bits flying through the air, and a growing chance that some nearby device will intercept one of these signals and suddenly and surprisingly spring into action.

    This phenomenon is somewhat related to the way a lightning bolt can set off a house alarm or a garage door opener--or much to the dismay of one engineer here, open a remote-controlled skylight in the midst of a downpour. This same colleague said his big-screen LCD TV sometimes powers up unexpectedly when he turns on a lamp (with a CCFL bulb), which is about 10 feet from the TV.

    In the case of the Brooklyn broiler, it could be that the phone's Bluetooth radio is trying to ring a hands-free headset, or there is an unusually high level of cell-tower transmission messages when the phone rings. Either event could induce small voltages in the exposed keypad controls of the stove, simulating a press of the keys.

    This wouldn't be the first time a cell phone interfered with a nearby device. We've all seen the standard warnings about cell phones and pacemakers. And our engineers say they've often heard a series of tones coming from a computer speaker when a phone within a few feet rings.

    Has your cell phone set your blender to whirring or your Roomba robotic vacuum to doing the rumba through your living room? Share your story here.

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