The idea of controlling household appliances by computer has been around since the days of the Sinclair Spectrum, but it is only now starting to become a reality. New devices and technologies like smartphones, wireless networking and Bluetooth are giving the phrase ‘remote control’ a whole new meaning.
The hub of the new intelligent kitchen is the refrigerator, which can now offer recipe suggestions, keep tabs on its own contents and even compile shopping lists as well as dispensing ice cubes.
When new items are placed in the fridge, they can be added to its inventory by selecting from a list on the built-in touchscreen, by scanning the receipt using a smartphone, or by voice recognition. The fridge can then monitor supplies and add items to an online shopping list when they run low. Input an expiry date and it will also warn you when food is approaching the end of its life, cutting down on both waste and horrid surprises in the salad drawer.
The smart fridge can suggest recipes based on what’s available, and which foodstuffs need to be used up. Once a choice has been made, it will pass this information on to the oven, telling it when to turn on and at what temperature.
Your fridge may not yet be clever enough to put the butter out before you come home, ensuring easy spreading for your lunchtime sandwiches, but it is already possible to ring up the cooker with instructions. Using a smartphone or web-based app, or sending a text message, users can switch the oven on, off, up or down, meaning that meals will be cooked to perfection even if the diners’ arrival has been postponed.
The same principle can be used on other appliances. A laundry cycle could be cancelled or delayed remotely, to avoid coming home late to a washing machine full of cold, wet clothes. Other features of the smart washing machine include the ability to download new, specialist programmes from the internet, for greater efficiency and cleaning power.
Controlling the heating from afar will save money and help the environment. If you’re away from home during a cold snap, it could also make the difference between a cosy homecoming and a nightmare of burst and frozen pipes.
Even the Teasmade, beloved alarm clock cum kettle of the 1960s and 1970s, has had a makeover. The design classic would be hard put to recognise the modern smart coffee maker, which will not only learn your preferences and make any style or strength of coffee you desire, but grind the beans for you first.
For the ordinary householder, the fully connected kitchen is some way off. However, many elements that seemed like science fiction just a few years ago are already in place. The smart fridge and all its intelligent companions may not actually cook and clean for you, like the domestic robots we have imagined for decades, but they make the tasks easier, quicker, cheaper and much more convenient.