Using his noodle

Daren Otten

For many on a budget—like college students—ramen noodles are a food staple. They’re cheap, reasonably tasty and are easy to prepare. Now, thanks in part to the work of Chico State manufacturing professor Daren Otten and some of his students, cooking them is even easier with the Rapid Ramen Cooker. It’s basically just a simple-looking BPA-free, microwavable plastic bowl that is in the same rectangular shape as the familiar bricks of dehydrated noodles. Sacramento entrepreneur Chris Johnson thought up the product and hired Otten to bring his idea to fruition. Otten—vice chair of the Mechanical and Mechatronic Engineering and Sustainable Manufacturing department at Chico State—and his students took 100 hours to complete the project. Johnson then presented the product on the reality show Shark Tank, and after securing $300,000 in financing from billionaire Mark Cuban, went on to sell, so far, more than 200,000 units in stores like Walmart and Safeway.

How’s it feel to have made such a popular product?

It’s exciting to see someone we’ve worked with succeed, and my sustainable-manufacturing students got real-world experience that you can’t beat. But it’s not about the widget, it’s about the guys who can push it. I don’t want to discount what my students did, but Chris Johnson is 100 percent absolutely the reason for its success. Those who can get their products to those who use them will succeed, and those who can’t won’t.

What was the process for creating the cooker?

It was an extensive process where we measured various ramen noodle pack sizes and created the BPA-free plastic container to withstand 212 degrees of microwave heat. The walls were designed tall enough to prevent water from boiling over and the side handles had to be convex, or rounded on top to prevent any splashed water from puddling up. It took many hours to design the dimensions using Excel spreadsheets, going back to the drawing board, etc.

Is this the most successful product you’ve worked on?

It’s not the biggest success; I call it a success when the client succeeds and wants more work from me, which has happened a lot. I’ve developed products privately for companies like Hewlett-Packard and Dell computers, and in Asia for GM and Hamilton Beach. The big guys have a lot more resources and the smaller guys have a lot more passion.

Any advice for prospective inventors?

Ask yourself: Is there a market for it? Are you willing to work harder than you’ve ever worked in your life for it? Are you willing to sell everything you own to fund it? If the answer to any of these is “no,” don’t do it. In any case, it’s always really hard. You’re better off playing the lottery. But if you’re willing to try it, call me! My office phone is 898-4316.