Eighteen months ago, I started a series on the so-called Smart Home on MNN.com, with the intent of documenting how it would change the way we live, the way we design our houses. I wondered about its implications, and wrote that “I believe there will be many and they will be profound.“
The series didn’t last very long because so far, the implications have been few and pretty trivial; I get to play with my lightbulbs and others get to play with their Nest thermostats, but as I noted, “if a house is designed properly, you don’t need much of this stuff — no automatic blinds for windows that are properly sited and shaded, no smart thermostat for a house that doesn’t change temperature.”
But there is one place where smart technology might make a difference, and that is in the kitchen. I have been dismissive of smart fridges and internet connected ranges before, but after reading Jennifer Tuohy’s article The Smart Kitchen: The Next Big Hope for the Internet of Things in TriplePundit, I realize that you cannot look at these appliances in isolation. She writes:
What is the largest producer of waste and second largest user of energy in the home? The kitchen. …I believe the smart kitchen is the next big thing for the smart home, the residential arm of IOT. If manufacturers can figure out a way to make smart products in the kitchen that reduce waste and energy use and increase convenience, then we will have a win for the planet, the consumer and business.
She points to a project at the Mozilla Foundation to develop a smart kitchen. The project overview:
Project SmartKitchen attempts to help people answer the question "What's for dinner?" in such a way that optimizes ingredients on hand, reduces food wastage, and offers recipes (eventually) tailored to the user's time, skill, dietary requirements, allergies, likes/dislikes, etc. …By building the SmartKitchen service that provides meal options based on existing food inventory, we will provide more options for meals and therefore make it easier for people to have more family dinners.
Project leader Tamara Hills writes on the blog:
As a busy parent, I get asked this question [What’s for dinner?] on a daily basis by at least four people. It really irritates me when I don’t have an answer. It’s even more irritating when I know I have tons of food in my kitchen (from that last trip to Costco!) and can’t come up with anything to feed my family. The initial concept of Project SmartKitchen is really about uncovering the many recipes that are ready and waiting to be cooked in your kitchen with the ingredients on hand. I know that there are many more exciting and tasty combinations of my current kitchen inventory than I can come up with in my head.
She notes also that 30 to 40 percent of food in in the United States is wasted, so not knowing what is in your fridge or your cupboards and what to do with it is not only a waste of money but it’s unsustainable.
They are looking at all kinds of ideas, from image recognition to identify food in the kitchen (which gets us out of relying on bar codes and being limited to packaged foods) as well as OCR and RFID, tying it all into an Open Source Cookbook “to provide recipes from the community and socially engage/gamify the community in the food area.”
It is a fascinating idea. I do not cook much as I am married to a former food writer who loves to cook, but just did a little inventory of our kitchen and found nineteen electrical appliances connected to mains electricity, natural gas, hot and cold water. There are cupboards, a fridge and a freezer for stuff coming in and there are garbage and recycling bins for stuff going out. It all goes through complicated assembly processes to make dinner, and disassembly, washing, and cleaning after dinner is complete. There are issues of health, safety, nutrition and very sharp and dangerous tools. It’s by far the most complicated room and probably the most important room in the house. There is a lot to think about here; you really have to know what you are doing to use it well, which is probably why so many people now order in or buy prepared foods.
Back on Triple Pundit, Jennifer notes:
This type of AI help families plan their meals and prepare healthier school lunches, and it alerts them when they’re low on an ingredient or when a product is about to expire. It also monitors food consumption, so that over time it can help determine healthy eater patterns. This will allow families to effortlessly reduce food waste, eat healthier and manage their food budgets more efficiently.
Retail analyst Deborah Weinswig wrote that “The smart kitchen segment of the household appliance market holds enormous potential, as the kitchen is one area of the house that often has more devices than any other. Also, many people wish to cut down time spent cooking and preparing food, which is why they buy all those devices in the first place.”
But this is a lot bigger than having an internet connected crock pot (although that is a pretty good idea). It’s bigger than any one single connected IoT appliance, but is about the support (the room and the appliances in it) the fill (the stuff we put in it all) and the action (cooking and eating) all work together more efficiently, with less waste and more health.
There might be something in this smart home stuff after all.