Remember when you first saw the screen on a refrigerator door that let you check the weather, search for recipes and update your family calendar? Wasn’t that amazing and so very cool? That fridge door represented one of the first steps appliance manufacturers have taken towards the future. Today’s kitchen technology has advanced well beyond that simple screen, and there’s no stopping them.
Science fiction has become science fact with “smart” connected appliances and other machine intelligence-driven objects that are now capable of very sophisticated actions. Here’s a mind-blowing statistic: In just the last few years, we’ve connected more thermostats, watches, and appliances to the Internet than there are people living on the planet.
We can expect to see advances in technology that give us networked machines that not only talk to one another, but actually negotiate with each other. In fact, IBM and Samsung have developed a concept protocol that allows appliances — such as washing machines, televisions, and refrigerators — to purchase their own supplies, like detergent, negotiate with each other for energy use, and order their own maintenance.
Nestlè, Kroger and Unilever are partnering with IBM to link home kitchens to the food ecosystem. The data infrastructure they’re working on will connect farms and factories to the stores that will eventually enable kitchen devices to shop for food based on country of origin, nutrition content and price.
Many other companies we are familiar with are focusing on the long view and preparing for a digitally connected future. Consider Amazon’s purchase of Whole Foods and the possibilities created by this merger. Your shopping history and personal preferences will be added to the global food database, and your kitchen will be able to tap into a distribution network that’s difficult to imagine.
These futuristic concepts are interesting, but they’re still “on the drawing board”, so to speak. Many appliance manufacturers have brought their concepts to life, and they are available now.
Smart kitchens of today focus on efficiency, saving time, and making cooking easy.
Let’s take a look at what some appliance manufacturers have already brought to market. The following can be installed in new kitchens now, bringing you into the future.
GE Appliances’ Kitchen Hub
Introduced as a prototype in 2018 and offered for sale in 2019, GE’s interactive Kitchen Hub is a smart kitchen and ventilation system designed to be installed over an oven or range.
The center of the Kitchen Hub is a smart touch screen and ventilation combination that fits above a standard range. It features a built-in Google Assistant, as well as access to thousands of recipes, Netflix and Spotify, social networking (using dual HD cameras), household calendars and schedules. You can preheat the oven, brew coffee, start the washer, play music, dim lights, lower the heat, and more — all through the Hub.
How About a Virtual Reality Kitchen?
Grundig’s VUX technology is already leading the way, with its high-tech kitchen package. VUX stands for “Virtual User Experience”, and it truly is quite an experience to see how Grundig transforms conventional methods of preparing meals, using motion sensors, projection and – of course, Wi-Fi.
The center of their kitchen is an interactive induction hob that uses induction heating components hidden in the countertop. Pots and pans can be placed anywhere on the cooking surface, not on one particular heating area. The overhead projector shows the virtual control panel and displays recipes and cooking information directly onto the counter top. A sensor beside the hob uses hand movements as instructions to operate the hob, eliminating dials, buttons and switches.
This kitchen system also transmits voice calls and video images. And if that’s not enough, you can get a BabyWatch webcam so you can keep an eye on the children while preparing dinner.
If you’re not quite ready for the entire VUX experience, completely hidden cooking surfaces are already available. You don’t have to see a cooktop surface with burners at all; just set a pan anywhere on the countertop and watch your soup cook using the power of magnetic waves that heat pans without heating surfaces. You turn it on and off and control the temperature from your phone or controls set off to the side.
The Virginia Tech Center for Design Research showed its FutureHAUS kitchen at the Kitchen & Bath Industry Show in Las Vegas. FutureHAUS is a joint project of the architecture and computer science programs at VA Tech that gives us a look at what is coming our way.
Some of the features that are integrated into the kitchen of their vision of the future include:
- A microwave oven that reads the UPC on packaging to set itself
- A refrigerator and pantry that let you know when you’re low on supplies
- A coffeemaker that preheats based on user activity – like starting a shower
- A convection oven that lets your wireless device know when your food is cooked, then texts the family that dinner is ready
- A “virtual window” in the backsplash that’s a multimedia display for household activities
Miele’s Smart Dialog Oven
Miele’s smart Dialog oven is a combination microwave oven, convection oven and radiant oven — all connected to an app. It can somehow cook different things at the same time. Miele has also introduced MChef, a service like Blue Apron that delivers the ingredients for a meal that you cook at home. But unlike Blue Apron or Hello Fresh, there are no step-by-step instructions. All you need to do is place it in the smart Dialog oven, which knows what to do.
According to a Miele press release:
“Entire three-course menus wait to be ordered. When they arrive, the ingredients are already arranged on porcelain plates – ready to be cooked in the Miele Dialog oven. Up to six dishes can be prepared simultaneously. The program is launched direct from the MChef app. The average cooking time is 20 minutes. Steak, potato and vegetables are cooked to perfection at the same time. Mistakes during preparation are virtually eliminated.”
Compare the Miele MChef to the TV dinners from 60 years ago. Swanson TV dinner advertising told us that “each hearty dinner comes complete in its own heating-serving tray, is piping ready in 25 minutes or less, no work before and no dishes after.” Miele gives you a complete meal set-up on a plate that simultaneously cooks meat, starch and veg in 20 minutes.
As the sayings go: “There’s nothing new under the sun.” “What’s old is new again”
Other Products Available Now That Can Bring The Future To Your Remodeled Kitchen
- June, a WiFi-enabled countertop oven, brags that its appliance lets you prepare better meals than you can make yourself. June recognizes the food you put into it, then tells you how to cook it perfectly.
- Similarly, Whirlpool’sSmart Countertop Oven is powered by an algorithm that can figure out what food is in it, then sets the cooking time and temperature. It also has an internal camera so you can watch your chicken roasting — or, of course, share it with your social media followers.
- “Smart fridges” have been around for a while now, but French appliance manufacturer Liebherr has hooked up with Microsoft to take the smart fridge to the next level. Your fridge can now know and identify all the products it contains, tell you what it is storing when you ask, and what is the best storage temperatures for each food item. It can and will help you order items through your preferred shopping app or by voice command.
- As part of its Café appliance line, GE has a refrigerator with a built-in Keurig coffeemaker. You can brew a cup of coffee without a bulky Keurig coffee maker on your countertop. It also dispenses soup and tea from K Cups. And even provides ice and cold water. Imagine that.
- JennAir has dishwashers and ovens that respond to voice commands.
- Both LG Signature Kitchen Suite and Miele are developing appliances that will communicate with each other to create shopping lists, meal recommendations and cooking instruction.
- Amazon Alexa and Google Home can now answer open-ended questions about ingredients, measurements, calories, conversions and substitutions.
- Brizo’s SmartTouch faucet turns on and off with just a tap of your hand, providing a clean way to wash your hands while kneading dough or working with raw meat. This type of smart faucet provides an easier way for children and those with decreased mobility to turn on the water. Smart touch faucets also reduce water waste, a concern for the future.
- Kohler’s Sensate Touchless Kitchen Faucet allows you to turn the water on or off and dispense measured amounts of water through voice commands or when you wave your hand near it. Think about it – you can fill an eight-ounce cup of water or a large pot without using your hands.
- Not to be left behind, American Standard presents the Beale MeasureFill Touch Kitchen Faucet that delivers a precise amount of water on demand.
- Faucets with spot-free finishes let you spend more time cooking and less time cleaning.
- A foot-operated trash bin opener from Hafele provides hands-free convenience and sounds pretty cool, but how about a voice-activated trash can?
- Cabinet doors and drawers that open with the touch of your foot or motion-activated movement past the baseboard offer easy ways to get to the contents quickly. Although this technology has been on the market for a few years, it still seems futuristic, and you don’t see it installed in many homes. Yet.
- As consumers become more interested in where their food is actually grown, we will see more hydroponic grow systems in homes. You can have fresh lettuce, spinach and herbs every day. This company is at the forefront of the home market.
- Last but certainly not least in this tech round-up is the Pancake Bot, a combination grill and 3D printer that produces pancakes in any shape you like via an SD card. It’s a thing.
Is It All Good?
Are these high-tech, app-driven appliances for everyone? Of course not. People want reliability and long-lasting performance in their appliances, and many don’t trust that the smart appliances will give them this. Also, technology changes so often that your brand-new smart fridge could be outdated before it’s even delivered. And will the manufacturer continue to support it?
And then there are privacy concerns. We’ve all read about hackers getting people’s data via baby monitors and Nest thermostats. Today’s smart appliances include cameras and microphones that have been problematic in the past. What assurances can smart appliance manufacturers provide? All these concerns must be addressed by the individual manufacturers.
A NKBA (National Kitchen & Bath Association) member kitchen designer from central Pennsylvania had this to say about the acceptance of smart, technology-driven appliances: “We’re going through the same scenario as we did with cellphones and computers in cars. We have adapted to that technology … We have become accustomed to it. Now, home technology is changing so quickly that … it’s a little scary. But there are good things associated with techy appliances, things that simplify our daily lives, and I believe we will come to appreciate the appliances just the way we did our mobile technology.”
There is the ultra-cool factor for you techno-holics out there. Everyone in your neighborhood will want to see you demonstrate your smart faucets, fridge and invisible cooktops.
Sources Used in This Article and for Further Reading
Lancaster Newspaper (LNP) Thursday, March 14, 2019 | Tech In the Kitchen
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