The kitchen is the heart of the house. It’s much more than the room where we prepare our meals. It’s where the best conversations happen, and the one place where you can (usually) get away from the all-pervading internet.
Or it was. The next wave of kitchen appliances will all have some measure of connection to the internet of things.
Smart cookers with recipes on touchscreens
At the Consumer Electronics Show in January – the annual techie shindig held in Las Vegas – Whirlpool exhibited a next-generation cooking surface where touchscreens displaying recipes shared space with freeform food heating areas.
So if you’re cooking a favourite family recipe but can’t remember a crucial part of the method, you’ll be able to call your mother, father, or whoever knows how to make that meal on an internet-connected screen which is part of the cooker.
The cooking surface has no set heating rings per se; the hob detects where the saucepans are and heats up underneath them.
It’ll be a little while before we are using Whirpool’s futuristic hob to teleconference with our mums about her macaroni cheese recipe, but the vanguard of the online kitchen has already arrived.
Internet-connected washing machines
Web-connected washing machines are already in shops, enabling users to fine-tune washing cycles so they finish when someone’s at home to hang the laundry out – avoiding that ‘four hours in a damp tub’ smell.
Samsung’s WW9000 networked washing machine promises that we’ll be able to download new washing cycles as the software updates.
So if a new Back To The Future style auto-drying fabric comes on the market, you won’t need to wait until you’re ready to buy a new washing machine before you can clean it.
Given that the average household keeps a washing machine for more than a decade that’s no bad thing.
Cleverly, Samsung’s new machine has large reservoirs of detergent and fabric conditioner and just uses as much as it needs. No more sloshing in random amounts of gloop.
Another bonus of this new generation of washing machine is that there’ll be no more peering at cryptic error codes on the machine’s display and trying to marry them up with the ones printed in your manual. You’ll get clear alerts sent to your smartphone, giving you the option of addressing the issue yourself or forwarding the alert to a repair engineer.
Once appliances are networked, your washing machine will be able to tell your spin dryer what it has just washed and how wet it is, so the dryer will be able to configure itself accordingly. Perhaps one day washing machines will talk to our cookers too, so they’ll know exactly what kind of tomato sauce we’ve spilled down our best shirt.
Online fridges that send messages to our phones
The fridge is getting in on the act, too, sprouting touchscreens and connecting to the internet so that we can keep a check on what’s in store without opening the door, and it can let you know what you’re running out of.
LG launched the world’s first internet refrigerator, the Internet Digital DIOS, way back in 2000. It wasn’t conspicuously successful, and in retrospect was a little too far ahead of its time.
Current models from internet of things experts Whirlpool and Samsung seem to be selling in solid enough numbers to suggest that the online fridge will be standard issue soon enough.
Fast forward a few years and our fridges will probably be reading the RFID chips embedded in packaging to warn us about upcoming use-by dates and automatically ordering staples from online supermarkets, so we never again suffer the heartache of waking up on Sunday morning to find that we’ve run out of milk.
If the price of guaranteeing a decent cup of coffee while we read the Sunday papers means we have to give up the last internet-free bastion in the house, for me it’s a price worth paying.