The Kitchen of the Future
A look at how smart appliances are changing homes, including the hub of the home, the kitchen.
A virtual window in the backsplash of the FutureHAUS Kitchen has a multimedia display for kitchen and household activities. Photo courtesy of Virginia Tech FutureHAUS. Lower photo: Smart appliance likes those from Dacor, allow you to turn on your appliances with your smartphone. Photo courtesy of Dacor.
Cars may never fly, as we’d once hoped, but appliances will talk.
In fact, they’re already talking to your smartphones.
Want to start dinner from the office? Your range or oven can go into roast mode from a voice command or a click on your iPhone. Going to be delayed? Change the timer from work. That technology is already here, with much more to come.
The Virginia Tech Center for Design Research brought its FutureHAUS Kitchen to Design & Construction Week at the Kitchen & Bath Industry Show and the International Builders Show, held jointly in Las Vegas in January. A joint project of the school’s architecture and computer science programs, the FutureHAUS Kitchen shows what’s possible.
“The future is now,” shared Joseph Wheeler, the project’s lead researcher. “The technology is here, it just isn’t being fully integrated yet.” Some of the features that are integrated into the project kitchen include:
- A microwave oven that reads the UPC on packaging to set itself;
- A refrigerator and pantry that let you know when you’re low on meal staples;
- A coffeemaker that preheats based on user activity – like starting a shower;
- A convection oven that lets your wireless device know when your food is cooked and
- A “virtual window” in the backsplash that’s actually a multimedia display for kitchen and household activities.
The Future is Now
Many of the digital integration features are already in the marketplace. GE and Dacor have introduced appliances that you can operate from your smartphone. Others are hard at work on their own releases.
Home automation is also widely available – and at ever-more affordable pricing. In the not-too-distant past, you needed to wire it into new construction or a full-scale remodel with the help of a pricey professional. Newer systems can be retrofitted into existing homes and can operate lights, window coverings, temperature and security, often by a tech-savvy homeowner.
Beyond the technology of connectivity, kitchen components are getting smarter in other significant areas. Tiles with built-in self-cleaning features can make floors and backsplashes easier to maintain. Faucets with spot-free finishes do the same. Hands-free faucets go even further and minimize germ spread. A foot-operated trash bin opener from Hafele will do the same when it hits the U.S. market later this year.
Hands-free faucets also reduce water usage. If you want filtered water, you can now get it hot or cold from your sink. You could also get hot water from a new refrigerator from GE that dispenses coffee from K Cups, soup, tea and, yes, ice and cold water.
The FutureHAUS Kitchen sported an induction cooktop on its low-maintenance glass countertop. Already shown at European trade shows have been low maintenance porcelain countertops with the induction burners integrated right into the surface. These porcelain tops are now being referred to as sintered compact surfaces.
While sintered tops with integral induction burners haven’t made it to the United States yet, low-maintenance, highly durable porcelain-glass-quartz blend tops have. Dekton is one such offering from Cosentino, the Spanish makers of Silestone. Dekton offers the heat and scratch resistance of granite with low maintenance and the ability to top both your indoor and outdoor kitchen cabinets. That is both futuristic and available now.
It’s conceivable – though maybe not in your comfort zone – that your Fitbit will one day lock your refrigerator when you reach your daily calorie goal or your oven will suggest recipes based on your MyFitnessPal smartphone app.
It is also conceivable – and certainly a tremendous privacy concern – that your personal information and home access could fall into the wrong hands. There have already been news reports of smart TVs and wifi-capable baby monitors being hacked. Will your kitchen be next? The more connected we are, the higher the risk and greater need for data security. Manufacturers are already addressing that issue, along with looking at convenience features.
As with any trend and technology, before rushing out to keep up with the Joneses (or Jetsons), determine whether the futuristic innovation will add real value to your household and life now! There’s tremendous convenience for some in the ability to cook dinner from work. For stay-at-home parents, this may be a budget item better invested in a low-maintenance countertop.
Be as smart in your kitchen selections as you are in every other area of your life.