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I realize there are many different hb microwave popcorn anti-burn ideas here, so I'll keep this one short:
A scale which the user places the bag of popcorn on.
The scale weighs the bag, and the user informs the scale of the brand and specific type, either by UPC or by lookup table (manuf->flavor->size)
unit has a database (internet updatable via USB, linux drivers available) which knows the average stats for each type of popcorn. It augments this with the data from the scale.
The user puts the bag into the microwave, sets the microwave to high, and the time to some larger-than-necessary-to-cook number.
Then the user places the piezo-electric actuator over the "stop" button on the microwave.
Using a microphone, the device detects the number and frequency of the pops. When it determines (based on database/weight information) that the frequency is ideal or that an ideal number of kernels have popped (again, based on database specs), it stops the microwave and emits a "ping" sound to indicate that the popcorn is perfect.
"Put a chip in the microwave to time the interval and shut off the microwave when it is done." [phoenix, Jul 19 2009]
this will set it off
[normzone, Jul 19 2009]
||You could use a laser to augment the popping process zapping prepop kernals to energize them to pop
||Digital image thermography could sense which kernals were at what temperature to be precisely laser nudged
||also it is is a nifty way to put an engraving laser at every popcorn popper
||thus when there are movies like T11 sarah conners great grandkids can take apart a microwave to get at the popcorn popping enhancing engraving laser to build a beam weapon
||errr, [beanangel] wasn't that one of your more successful ideas? Laser engraving kernels, I mean.