Tomorrow’s kitchen: Smarter, smaller and oh so cool
Tuesday, February 21, 2017
Tabletop cooking, backsplash display panels and a garage for your appliances are just a few of the advances in kitchen design looming on the horizon. In comparison, that Jetsons kitchen you've been waiting for may seem more like one for the Flintstones.
Not only will food preparation be quicker and easier, but also nearly every aspect of the kitchen will be responsive to your every command. Who needs Rosie the Robot when you've got a whole room full of obedient appliances waiting to serve you?
For some time now, kitchens have been expanding while the traditional living or dining room has been shrinking or disappearing altogether. But what happens if food preparation becomes a secondary or even tertiary function in the kitchen?
It sounds counterintuitive, but that scenario may not be all that far off — at least in more affluent households. Appliance manufacturers are teaming with technology innovators to create products that will minimize human involvement in meal preparation and transform the kitchen area into an interactive environment for work, play and socializing, as well as eating.
At the Combined Exhibition of Advanced Technologies Conference (CEATEC) held in October in Tokyo, Panasonic wowed visitors with its "Unique Interface/Unique Experience" exhibition, giving a glimpse of what "high end" may mean for kitchens in the not-too-distant future.
Video and touchscreens are rapidly replacing digital controls. The exhibit featured sliding transparent cabinet panels that double as OLED monitors and a wine/beverage cooler with an interactive transparent front panel that allows you to view the contents and monitor and adjust the temperature inside without having to open the door.
The centerpiece of the exhibit was a revolutionary appliance called the Flat Cooker. It looks like a stylish dining room table for about six to eight guests. Embedded in the table, however, is a heating mechanism. Food is cooked directly on the plate by placing a specialized lid over it.
Once the metal-rimmed lid makes contact with the table, ingredients within begin to heat up, while the rest of the surface remains room temperature. Your meal is cooked and stays warm until you are ready to eat. It gives a whole new meaning to "farm to table."
A number of high-end appliances in recent years have incorporated touchscreen tablets, allowing consumers to control them via mobile apps, download recipes, view cooking videos and stream music. Whirlpool is taking that concept a step further, creating what it calls the Interactive Kitchen of the Future.
The design pairs an interactive backsplash and connected cooktop working together to not only link users to all their online media, but also assist by suggesting meal planning based on what is in the cupboard and wine recommendations for the meals it plans. Sensors help to ensure each meal is cooked to perfection.
As with handheld mobile devices, the backsplash can be used to video chat with family and friends and as a scanner to obtain nutritional and ingredient information from the barcodes of products. Over time, the interactive kitchen will respond to your lifestyle and learn your routines, enabling the appliances to adapt to your circumstances and needs.
If having to mess with a touchscreen is just too taxing, take heart. General Electric has teamed up with Amazon so you can now use Amazon's voice-interactive Echo device to deliver commands to an array of appliances, including stoves, refrigerators, dishwashers, washing machines, air conditioners and water heaters.
Meet "Alexa" and "Geneva," your new kitchen aides. Tell Alexa to tell Geneva to start cooking the roast or heat water for a cup of tea, and voilà, your wish is their command.
How all this innovation will impact the design of tomorrow's kitchens remains to be seen. But with appliances doing more of the cooking, and busy consumers gravitating toward quick-meal services like Blue Apron and Amazon Prime Now, the food preparation area of the kitchen is likely to shrink.
In an article for Bloomberg news, Jonah Disend, founder of innovation firm Redscout, foresees the day when affluent homeowners will need much less space to store pots, pans, utensils and foodstuffs, bringing to an end the desire for a showplace kitchen. The living/dining area will once again dominate floor space and layout.
And what about all those nifty interactive countertop appliances? Put them in an "appliance garage," suggests Roy Kim of real estate brokerage Douglas Elliman: "We're recommending appliance garages in our upcoming projects."
Sort of a galley kitchen for gadgets, the appliance garage could also be a great place to store your robot when it's not serving your meal or doing the dishes. That could happen sooner than you think.
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