September 20, 2016

The Kitchen of the Future

It wasn’t that long ago when the proliferation of smartphones made the then-standard cellphone models look, well, dumb. A similar shift is now taking place in the technology of our homes, and some experts believe that the epicenter of the so-called “smart home” will be the kitchen. What will the smart kitchen of the future look like, and what could it do for you? Here’s the rundown on smart kitchens: what they are and how they could make your life easier.

What Are Smart Homes?

Smart homes are dwellings in which the electronic components (from thermostats to radios to locks) can communicate with each other, and be controlled by you, from anywhere. If you lived in a smart home, you could use a smartphone, tablet, computer or voice command to give instructions to the devices and systems in your home—including the lights, the security cameras, and even the vacuum cleaner.

Early smart home products communicated using the house’s existing electrical wires. Today, although that technology is still used, more and more connected appliances communicate via radio waves, similar to cell phone signals and BlueTooth. (If you’re interested in the details of home automation, there are decent primers online at HowStuffWorks and Explain That Stuff.)

Although undoubtedly cool, is such a Jetsonian abode more than just a trendy novelty?

Imagine turning up the heat on a cold morning without having to get out of bed to walk to the thermostat, or turning on the air conditioning from 20 miles away to arrive home to a pleasantly cool house after a summer outing. Picture yourself at work, realizing that you forgot to turn on the dishwasher before you left the house that morning, and correcting your mistake by tapping a button on your smartphone.

Your appliances, in turn, could communicate with you. You could get a text from your house warning you that someone is prowling around your property when you’re away, or your garage could sense your imminent arrival in the driveway and open its door accordingly.

And although some say the dream of a completely connected home is more hype than reality, research has predicted that by 2020, “the value of the global smart home market will reach $43 billion,” or almost triple its value just two years ago.

What’s In a Smart Kitchen?

What with all the appliances and gadgets involved in cooking, kitchens already go hand in hand with technology – and, increasingly, with computers. Thirty-four percent of survey participants told NextMarket Insights that they “sometimes” use a tablet or smartphone in the kitchen, and almost a quarter of respondents said they use one “all the time.” This may be why some experts believe that of all the areas in a future smart home, the kitchen is where the newest developments will really take off.

As one part of a smart home, the devices in a smart kitchen would be able to communicate with those in other rooms. For instance, a motion sensor in your bedroom could notify your coffee maker that you’re up, ensuring that a hot beverage would be ready for you when you reach the kitchen. You’d have milk on hand for your cereal because your garbage can, sensing that you threw away a milk carton earlier, would have added milk to your automatic online grocery order.

(You may have heard the term “The Internet of Things.” This is what it refers to–a network of objects communicating with each other.)

Smart kitchen technology can come in small packages, like scales that convert measurements for you, Wi-Fi enabled cooking thermometers, and forks that monitor your eating habits.

Larger smart appliances include ovens that notify you via a smartphone app when your food is ready and washers that text you when your dishes are finished. These components can be part of a larger network extending throughout the house, but they can also function independently.

What’s In It for You?

Whether or not the future ushers in completely connected homes for everyone, in the present day, smart appliances are a real and growing market. LG offers a line of smart appliances that you can control from another room and that can help troubleshoot their own problems by transmitting data to your smartphone or LG’s call center. GE is adding Wi-Fi to some older refrigerators.

So, even if you have no desire to live in a home like Bill Gates’s Seattle mansion (where “guests wear pins that automatically adjust temperature, music and lighting based on their preferences upon entering a room”), you can still take advantage of smart technology in your everyday life.

Aside from the convenience of being able to control appliances from anywhere, the fun of changing the color of your light bulbs without having to unscrew them and the entertainment value of a refrigerator that suggests recipes based on what ingredients it senses it has inside, proponents of smart kitchens claim their benefits can be far-reaching.

A smart kitchen could reduce electric bills, as lights and heating systems automatically turn off when you leave the room and appliances switch themselves into energy-saving mode when not in use.

It could also reduce food waste, by notifying you when food is about to expire. A smart kitchen could help you care for pets when you’re away by automating their feeding schedule. And, it could provide aid for those with limited mobility or disabilities, by making it easier for them to perform tasks via voice command, for instance. It could even prevent disaster by turning off a running tap or allowing you to check whether you left the stove on when you’re not at home.

If some of this sounds too intrusive, you can choose to embrace certain aspects of smart home technology while avoiding others. The range of available products is wide, as is their cost. As with any home improvement project, you can spend a hundred dollars or tens of thousands of dollars, and you can do it yourself or bring in a team of professionals.

And although smart home technology is not everyone’s cup of self-brewing tea, it’s worth paying attention to this emerging trend. Someday, appliances that work together to help you might be the new standard.

READ MORE: What Is the Internet of Things?

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