Will We Ever Make the Jump to Smart Appliances?

You have a half hour drive home from work and you are hungry as can be. You plan to start cooking as soon as you get home. What will you eat? Why not call your refrigerator and ask for a suggestion. The fish has almost reached expiration, so it recommends that with steamed broccoli. Then a quick call to the stove has the broiler preheated for when you arrive home.

It might sound like a fantasy, but it may not be that far off. Don’t forget, most of the things we rely on daily were the stuff of sci-fi just a couple of decades ago. So where are our smart appliances? Some companies like GE, Panasonic, and LG have started working in that direction. But there is nothing to wow us yet.

So far there is just a lot of fluff instead of function. Sure your smart phone can operate some appliances remotely, and some appliances can run apps like Pandora in case you wanted a little music to cook or clean by, but that is hardly revolutionary. Food inventory is neat; it’s nice to know you are down to the last few eggs without having to open a door. But honestly, wouldn’t we want our meat defrosted while we commute home instead of having dinner delayed an extra half hour? Of course, our first consumer need is to save money, so that is where much research and development has gone in recent years. Everyone wants energy saving appliances, and that isn’t a bad thing since it’s good for the planet too.

Companies like GE are sinking research into smart grids right now. Having appliances use less energy during peak times is a big deal for consumers who pay high utility bills. But smart grids are a multi-billion dollar technology, and even once they are common place, why would someone pay extra for a smart appliance that only saves you a few dollars a month. Even if every appliance on the planet was connected to a smart grid, they still wouldn’t be able to do a fraction of the things our smart phones do, so at best, that would be semi-intelligent appliances.

We already have gadgets that can vacuum the house or mow the lawn for us, and perhaps we’ll never have stoves that do food prep and toasters that make sandwiches, but what about appliances that track data. We get tracked everywhere else in our life. Video cameras are everywhere. Credit companies break down our purchases by category. Why shouldn’t our refrigerator make up the shopping list based on our eating habits; or laundry machines suggest settings and a detergent based off of what we usually wash? After all, if it makes our lives easier, then an appliance is serving its intended purpose.