The age of interconnected devices and gadgets is slowly dawning. This category of communications-capable electronics has been labeled “the Internet of Things” – somewhat of a misnomer now-a-days when it is obvious that the security threat of any machine reachable from the Internet is enormous. Perhaps quantum cryptography will one day address this issue. Until then, home owners will probably be safer by using offline “smart home controllers” with manually-upgradeable firmware in what will be an Intranet of Things.
Irrespective of the name, this new wave of electronics is still barely in its infancy. Any company worth its salt has to prepare for how business will change in the coming decades. And there’s nothing more disruptive than what is basically the rise of the first mainstream generation of highly task-optimized robots. Indeed, a smart refrigerator is basically a robot focused on a certain task.
While the first robots accessible to everybody will still function very much like our current appliances, their smarts will open up a myriad opportunities for ground-breaking innovation. Because the kitchen contains a large amount of appliances, let’s explore how all these can be interconnected in order to provide an evolutionary leap when compared to today’s emerging Kitchen 2.0 where we do have smart devices but they are working by themselves rather than in cooperation.
The purpose behind any post in this Futurology^ category is to launch a wild, boundless speculation regarding what the future holds regarding a certain concept. To get things going, here are some of the things I imagine we’ll find in the kitchens of the near future (coming decades). Feel free to submit your own ideas in the comments below. With your approval I may integrate these in the article, giving proper credit.
- Among its kitchen brethren, the refrigerator is going to see some of the largest changes to the way it operates. First of all, it will be able to manage its own contents and automatically order things its owners usually consume. Secondly, it will become smaller due to the increased efficiency in food delivery.
- The way goods arrive in our household will fundamentally change, paving the way for new companies to establish themselves or creating new opportunities for profit for existing companies, such as Walmart which, 7 months after this article was published, has started experimenting with deliveries directly to the refrigerator^. Almost all perishable goods will be delivered by robots, most likely by self-driving trucks. We can’t exclude aerial drones that land packages on the rooftop of buildings. However, this is far less energy efficient and current experiments with this technology are either marketing gimmicks or attempts to create a segment for very fast but also very expensive shipping.
- After delivery, a property’s own small transport robots will take the goods and store them in a Central Refrigerator. From there, the products will be distributed upon request to individual household refrigerators.
- There will be no need for a refrigerator to have more than a day’s quantity of milk because more milk will be just 1 to 5 minutes away. Apartment buildings will have a Central Refrigerator somewhere in the basement, so quite close to family refrigerators. Product delivery will be slightly longer for areas with villas (due to the Central Refrigerator being located in a separate building somewhere close by).
- All food orders will go to the Central Refrigerator. This will, in turn, bulk orders together and get the best offers from various warehouses in the area. Such a system will also save power due to having more efficient storage and much less heat leakage – the main door of this large refrigerator will almost never open because small delivery robots will go in and out through isolating access hatches.
- Cooking a meal will often be as easy as pressing a button. People will be able to download recipe-programs for their kitchen. A recipe will therefore consist of a list of items that the refrigerator has to order and a set of instructions for various kitchen appliances. Some ingredients such as flour, sugar, oil, will be available to purchase in packages with the exact dosage required for the recipe, reducing waste and making it easier for Kitchen 3.0 to prepare the recipe.
- Kitchen appliances will be integrated in one single block inside which ingredients can be transported from one section to another using various robotic arms. I’ll call this the Kitchen Block. Products that don’t require refrigeration will be brought from a larger storage compartment, either inside the home or a common storage location used by more families.
- Baking a cake for example will consist of the mixer requesting items from various storage locations. The mixer will also be able to assign tasks to other sections of the Kitchen Block, such as asking the oven to toast some nuts before sending the cake batter to it.
- All appliances will therefore be a part of a single unit, able to give instructions to each other. This will be done using preferably open source protocols and open standards, which is probably the only way for the manufacturers of various robots to be able to allow these machines to work with each other.
- There will still be plenty of room for people to cook by themselves if they so wish, but more and more citizens will become recipe downloaders and/or developers. Creating a recipe program will probably not be so difficult, since in the coming decades computers will be operable using natural language. This transition is already taking place.
- Despite the recipes being programs, they will be human-readable, making it very hard for an attacker to hack Kitchen 3.0. Combined with a strict security policy based on user approval and only minimal communication with the Central Refrigerator and similar “Master” robots, Kitchen 3.0 has good security prospects.
- On the topic of Master robots, does every home really need something as complex as a Kitchen Block? Perhaps it should belong together with the Central Refrigerator, serving more than one household. This way, costs will be kept down and cooking will be more efficient. Then, Kitchen 3.0 could be split into a central section and a trimmed down “thin client” located inside each family’s home.
The Futurology Disclaimer: I do not claim that my ideas are original. I’m sure these suggestions are just scratching the surface of what can be achieved, but hopefully they’ve scratched enough to get anybody inspired to come up with more. I’m also sure many of these ideas are already being worked on by several organizations. If any of the ideas listed by anybody on this page are original and will benefit any organization, I expect credit to be given where it’s due.
2017-02-16 – 1.0 – Written.
2017-09-23 – 1.0.1 – Added a link about Walmart experimenting with deliveries directly to the refrigerator.