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The Intelligent Kitchen
Five cutting-edge technologies can save time in the kitchen -- and may even bring your family back to the table
Ever since the Jetsons produced a three-course meal with the push of a button, homeowners have been waiting for their own kitchens to enter the space age. It looks like that's finally about to happen.
Aided by the confluence of greater broadband Internet access, more advanced microchip processors and widespread wireless networking, manufacturers are rolling out gadgety new appliances that keep the kitchen firmly ensconced as the heart of even the fastest-paced homes. Think of a microwave that broadcasts the evening news, an oven that knows how to cook your food better than you do and a refrigerator that keeps tabs on the milk and lets you know when you run out.
They're not yet popping out ex nihilo gourmet meals. But such high-tech domestic innovations are the future of the average American kitchen, insists Robert Spangler, senior manager of technology for the National Kitchen & Bath Association ( http://www.nkba.org ). With the whole country getting wired over a very short period of time, it's kind of like the television revolution: We'll hit that tipping point where all of a sudden [intelligent kitchens] are the standard, he says.
So what can homeowners expect? Here are five timesaving technologies that are starting to show up in kitchens across the country.
|Photos Courtesy General Electric|
1. Multitasking Appliances
Juggling multiple tasks is the modus operandi of most homeowners, so it makes sense that your appliances should follow suit. As a multitasker, the Polara refrigerated range from Whirlpool is the all-star of the intelligent kitchen. Equipped with compressors that will cool food to 40 degrees F, the Polara will then cook a dish at a preprogrammed time with standard convection heat.
It's even smart enough to understand the vicissitudes of a busy schedule. You can program it so dinner's hot when you get home at 6, says Joanne Belanger, global manager of corporate innovation and technology for Whirlpool. But if you're not home then, it'll keep the food warm for an hour. And very often, you get stuck in traffic or your meetings go a little long, so if you're still not home, it'll go back to refrigeration mode.
Samsung's new Quatro Freedom four-door refrigerator, which will be available in February, offers similar versatility. Each of its four compartments is controlled by independent evaporators and thermostats that enable you to optimize in-fridge temperatures, so you can keep the milk well-chilled without freezing the fresh vegetables.
More striking, individual sections can convert back and forth from refrigerator to freezer. So whether a dinner party calls for more fridge space or a spree at a discount warehouse leaves you with too many frozen pizzas, you can adjust the temperature settings to create whatever kind of cooling you need.
2. Remote-Controlled Kitchen
In 2002, technology firm Battelle predicted that the ability to operate home appliances remotely with universal controls would be one of the top innovations of the next 10 years. They were right on the money. A number of new-to-market appliances are Internet-enabled, so they can be controlled and monitored from outside the home.
The recently introduced Connect Io Intelligent Oven from TMIO, for instance, is a wall-mounted appliance that, like the Polara, can refrigerate food until a preset cooking time. But with a wireless or Cat 5 connection (the standard cable for home automation networks), homeowners can control the Connect Io with a standard Web browser, cell phone or even a landline phone. Stuck in traffic or running late? Simply dial up the oven and reprogram its cooking time.
Manufacturer LG plans to offer a suite of Internet-enabled appliances: a refrigerator, microwave, washing machine and air conditioner that connect via a home's existing electrical wiring. Like the Connect Io, the appliances can be controlled with a Web browser or cell phone, so homeowners can start a washing machine cycle or download a recipe to the refrigerator's Web tablet while they're at work. And because the LG Internet refrigerator contains a server that controls communication to the other three appliances, all four elements of the suite can be managed with one remote interface.
Similarly, GE's concept-level Kitchen of the Future revolves around remote access and interconnectivity with its refrigerator. Also envisioned is an internal sensor that uses radio frequency identification (RFID) to monitor food inventory and maintain a continually updated electronic list of the refrigerator's contents.
If RFID tags start to move into the consumer marketplace on a can of soup or jug of milk, what we'll see in five or 10 years is the ability to do inventory control, says Tim Woods, vice president of Internet Home Alliance ( http://www.internethomealliance.com ), a consortium of companies that work toward creating technologies for connected homes. Homeowners will be able to use a standard phone to get a heads-up on what's in the fridge, find suggestions for recipes you can cook with the food on hand, and download a grocery list of items you need.
3. On-Demand Entertainment
As the hub of the household, kitchens aren't strictly cooking and eating zones anymore. Consumers want entertainment in the kitchen, says Whirlpool's Belanger. More consumers want to watch the news in the kitchen, or they want to watch a cooking show and follow the recipe at the same time.
Accordingly, appliances that double as entertainment devices are hot. At the 2005 National Kitchen and Bath Show, Whirlpool debuted an over-the-range microwave with a front panel that acts as a television screen.We know that the prime real estate in the kitchen is the countertop, Belanger says. This doesn't use countertop space.
The product hasn't hit the market yet, but engineers already are working on the next rendition: outfitting the microwave with a camera so that, at the touch of the panel, the nightly news gives way to a picture of the chicken defrosting inside.
Beyond's Icebox FlipScreen, a space-saving under-cabinet entertainment unit, combines the functions of a television, DVD player, CD player and FM radio with Internet access and security monitoring, so with an extra video camera, you can keep an eye on the kids in the next room. You can navigate through options with a slim, washable keyboard, remote control or a touch-screen LCD monitor with stylus. After use, the video screen tucks away unobtrusively.
Appliances equipped with Web tablets already are on the market and are growing in popularity. The LG Internet refrigerator, for instance, comes equipped with a removable 15-inch TFT (thin-film transistor) LCD television screen in its door, capable of showing clear-picture television or DVD movies. It also will display your digital snapshot library, play MP3s, provide Internet access with a virtual keyboard, manage the family calendar and record voice or video memos for other family members.
4. Smart Timesavers
Intelligent kitchen devices are designed to meet the needs of increasingly time-stressed families. The less attention appliances require, the more attractive they become.
With some small-kitchen appliances, barcodes streamline operation. To use the Smart Bread Maker from Beyond, home cooks scan the barcode on their favorite box of bread mix with an attached wand, and the bread maker automatically adjusts its settings to churn out a perfect loaf. Installing Beyond's SANI (Smart Appliance Network Interface) card creates a wireless network with your Icebox FlipScreen, so you can download new bar codes to add to the bread maker's memory.
The Tassimo hot beverage system from Braun also uses barcodes to keep work to a minimum. You just toss in a coded single-serve packet, or T-Disc, of premeasured coffee, tea or hot chocolate, and the machine knows how much water to add and how long to brew it.
Another timesaver: The intelligent kitchen can diagnose its own problems. One of the Connect Is features is a proprietary virtual repairman system that transmits a maintenance feed directly to a technician when something goes awry. The technician can diagnose the problem and order necessary parts before stepping foot in your house and charging by the hour.
5. Connected Kitchens, Connected Families
In an era when busy families struggle to log a few meals together each week, appliances that help put dinner on the table faster are at the top of the homeowner's wish list.
In 2004 and 2005, the Internet Home Alliance conducted the Mealtime Pilot, a study in which 20 Boston-area families were outfitted with a suite of kitchen appliances so cutting-edge that most of them wouldn't hit the market for months, if not years. Among the collection were a refrigerator equipped with an Internet tablet, a remotely controllable Whirlpool Polara range, an Icebox FlipScreen, a countertop printer and a WAP cell phone, a Web-enabled wireless phone that allowed participants to operate the range from anywhere.
Surprisingly, of all the gadgets, families most loved having a broadband connection in the kitchen, which allowed them to find recipes online, check email or IM friends without splitting up into different parts of the house. Kids started doing their homework in the kitchen, talking with their moms and dads, and getting involved in meal prep, Woods says. One woman reported, If somebody would have told me technology would have brought my family together, I would have thought they were crazy. But it did.
Finally, technologies that actually make life better. Domestic bliss, indeed.
An Iowa-based freelance writer, Melody Warnick has covered home, health and education topics for Self, Natural Home Thu, 13 Sep 2007 00:00:00 Melody Warnick Spinach Power http://www.smart-homeowner.com/node/7848 http://www.cradletocradlehome.com and http://www.c2c-home.org .