Coming soon to a kitchen near you
The heart of the home is set to become a re-imagined heart of technology. Make way for talking fridges, recipe-led ovens and automatic ordering.
Consider the following:
It’s 7am and my alarm (Arcade Fire) reverberates in my bedroom. I press snooze. Ten minutes later, the song comes on again, slightly louder. I press snooze. Ten minutes pass and the alarm goes off, but this time a 3D projection of the band playing is at the foot of my bed. I lay in bed for a brief moment and realise it’s much later that I thought.
Being late for work is inevitable; I still haven’t had breakfast, or made my lunch. I finally get up and go through my usual morning routine. Next, I head to the kitchen; the lights flicker on to an orangey-glow just as I enter, and I say aloud (albeit groggily) to the MagicMealMaker (or MMM, for short) – a machine that bears a striking resemblance to the replicator from Star Trek: The Next Generation – what I want for breakfast: “Morning! Two eggs. Poached. Two slices of toast. Buttered. Two slices of grapefruit. One cup of coffee. White.” And instantaneously, the order materialises in less than 10 seconds. Sorted. “Thank you…. um… MMM.” I feel bad that I still haven’t named it, yet. There’s the option to do so when you first plug it in, but I just haven’t gotten around to it – once you name it, there’s no changing it.
MMM replies, “You’re welcome, Christina. And a good morning to you, too. Shall I make your lunch, next?”
“Wow, you really can read my mind,” I say, still impressed with this machine, “How about… Hmm… How about a tortilla wrap? Wholewheat. With aubergines, sweet peppers, and zucchini. All grilled. Hummus. And a bit of spinach inside.”
“Christina, my history shows you had that for lunch on Friday. Do you want to have it again?” MMM asks.
“Of course! It’s fine. It’s one of my favourite things to eat, so I don’t mind eating it regularly.”
“Duly noted, Christina.”
“Is there anything else before I finalise your lunch?”
“Nope, I’m good. Go ahead and make it.”
And again, in less than 10 seconds, my lunch appears, all packed in my Tupperware and in my favourite lunch bag. I bought MMM not too long ago so I haven’t had a chance to fully test out its capabilities, for instance, to see if it can replicate foods that I crave from other cities I’ve visited, such as that refreshing summer noodles dish from that restaurant in Tokyo, or even my mum’s cooking. I think I’m afraid I’d be disappointed if it didn’t live up to its claims. But one of the best features about this machine is it knows how much I eat and makes it according to that portion size. So I never have to worry about leftovers, wasting food, or money for that matter. And I’ve been able to sync MMM to GardenGrow, the device outside that’s monitoring my garden’s growth, which is also synced to my smartphone.
So far, the convenience has been luxurious; it took a while to get used to everything being done for you, but now it seems I have more time to run other errands. As I leave to get ready for work, MMM asks, “Shall I have dinner prepared the minute you walk in, or will you be running late again?”
“Hmm, not sure what my day will be like, but how about we play it by ear. Maybe I’ll text you?”
“Okay. The usual Monday night dinner? Rice. Steamed. Broccoli. Sautéed with garlic. Tofu. Fried with garlic. Hoisin sauce. A splash.”
“Surprise me, this time.” Let’s see what happens.
“I’m sorry Christina, I don’t understand that command.”
I sigh. Okay, there are still some kinks to work out. Who said technology was perfect?
“Nevermind. The usual Monday night dinner then.”
A fictional account that may be, but is it really that farfetched? We’re not far behind especially since 3D printers are becoming more mainstream and have the capability of printing edible products. And the idea of having things done for you and not worrying about the ‘what-shall-I make-for-breakfast-lunch-or-dinner?’ conundrum can be quite nice – especially if you’re pressed for time.
In 2010, IKEA (UK) commissioned Future Laboratory to investigate and strategise what future kitchens would look like. The report concluded that by 2040 the “future kitchen will not think for us, it will think with us”. The emphasis is that the smart kitchen will be equipped with appliances, technology, interfaces to not just do things for us, it will sense and adapt to our needs.
The study divided the kitchen into three potential set-ups: Intuitiv, Elementara, and Skarp. The first will respond and react to your energy levels, nutritional needs and mood, acting as a combination of nutritionist, personal trainer, and lifestyle coach that features aromatherapy-infused walls and a carbon-efficient fireplace used for cooking. The second, Elementara, is considered more sustainable and encourages you to grow your own food, where the garden meets the kitchen indoors. Finally, Skarp is heavily reliant on technology, with devices, fridges that have 3D display of the nutritional values of your food and self-cleaning counters. All these kitchens seem to enhance our overall kitchen experience, sensorially. Is this what we’ll expect to find when we shop at IKEA in the next two decades?
Many companies like to showcase the latest gadgets technology at the annual Consumer Electronics Show (CES), held in Las Vegas, and similarly to IKEA’s report, the gadgets that have appeared in the past few years focused on making your kitchen smart. In 2012, LG introduced the prototype for Smart Manager Fridge, complete with a touchscreen that suggests recipes based on what’s stocked in your fridge. Once a recipe is picked, the fridge can set the oven at the correct temperature. The appliance went on sale last year retailing at £2,000 – smart convenience doesn’t come cheap.
At one panel at this year’s trade show, speakers discussed integrating your smart phone to your kitchen, for example, you’ll never forget if you turned the oven off or not (I’ll admit, that is helpful). In essence, it’s about creating technology that connects or consolidates all your interfaces into one device. We already do everything on our phone, why not add your kitchen (and home) into the equation?
Also at this year’s CES, Whirlpool introduced a kitchen stovetop prototype that uses a touch-screen flat surface that enables you to refer to the recipe whilst cooking. The stovetop will also allow you to browse the web or log on to social media. And LG’s HomeChat will allow you to “converse” (text-based) with your appliances. For instance, if you’re out grocery shopping, you can message your fridge to ask, “Do we have milk?”, and it will respond.
The kitchen, the heart of the home, is now transforming to be the high-tech heart. It’s pretty exciting about the potential of all these innovations for the kitchen and the convenience it brings. But the real question is: are these kitchens actually smarter? Will it come with a much bigger and more complicated instruction manual? I’m a bit dismayed, and perhaps, sad about what the kitchen of the future brings. These reports and panels emphasise the importance of device-to-device connectivity and how wonderful and desirable a connected kitchen will be. But in the midst of all this excitement, the essence of the kitchen we know – or once knew – will be lost.
I can’t predict whether the food from the fictionalised MagicMealMaker would taste like, or if it’ll ever come to fruition, but until then, I’m content with getting out of bed earlier to make both my breakfast and lunch. Or if I have a moment, I’ll make lunch the day before.