Many of us pass half a dozen supermarkets on our way home from work, and nothing can be as exasperating as coming into the house and discovering you’re low on something that you needed for dinner that night or breakfast the next morning.
New technology in kitchen appliances is designed to address this problem by not only making it easier for us to manage our household inventory, but by helping consumers prepare food and save energy as well.
The smart appliance is not a new concept. For a few years, top-of-the-line refrigerators have come equipped with tablets that keep track of the contents and quantities of items inside.
But now they’re getting even smarter. Newer models come equipped with cameras so they can be viewed from a smartphone app. Some will even go so far as to post pictures of what’s for dinner that evening.
Saving money on energy costs has also spurred advances in technology — not just advances that earn appliances a better Energy Star rating, but features like the ability to set your dishwasher to run when energy costs are lowest; or induction cooking that allows for more precise temperatures to be set instead of only high, medium, or low.
But it’s not just the larger appliances that are getting a technological makeover. Products like the EcoSwitch from General Electric combine multiple appliances like a blender, hot plate, slow cooker, or tea kettle into one device that’s operated with RFID chips in each component. When the blender is on the base, for instance, it shows the controls available to that appliance.
Even items like cutting boards have been given a brain. Winner of the #GetItDownOnPaper award, the Chop-Sync includes Wi Fi capabilities that allow someone preparing a meal not only to view a recipe and its ingredients on the board itself, but each item can be weighed out as it is cut using sensors on the device.
Costs remain a concern
While operating costs help to sell these items, the initial cost to replace existing appliances for smart ones can scare some consumers off.
For those who worry about the costs of technologically enabled appliances, competition has helped to drive the costs down. “If you see the recent trends in the appliances market, made-in-Japan products are increasingly threatened by their Korean and Chinese counterparts with enhanced technologies and competitive prices,” said Jamie Ko, head of consumer appliances at research firm Euromonitor.
Consumers may opt for different gadgets that can smarten up their existing appliances until the time comes to buy a new one. For example the Milkmaid container will take on some of the functions of a smart refrigerator by sending a text when the milk it holds is running low or close to spoiling because it measures the pH balance.
Despite costs, experts at Pike Research expect the sales of smart appliances to jump to $35 billion by 2020 from just over $600 million in sales last year.