​Prep time 10 years: What's the hold up with the smart kitchen?

Why the kitchen will be the last room in your house to go smart
Why smart kitchens are off the boil

Every now and then surfaces a gadget that the whole world cannot help but ridicule and remember. For the smart kitchen, it's the iKettle.

The iKettle is a kettle that you can command from your smartphone. There are one or two mini-features but the headline functionality is that you can get it to boil without being in the same room, and there's a certain emptiness about acknowledging what a hollow use of silicon that is.

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Is this all the internet of things can offer our kitchens; remote control water heating?

Look to other areas of the smart home and there's products out there that are really making a difference. In both smart lighting and smart heating specifically are the best examples where learning thermostats and low-energy bulbs are saving individuals money and the planet its carbon. From your TV set to your tumble dryer; through the bedroom, the hallways and down to the front room, the smart home is beginning to come together.

So, what is it that's going on - or not going on - in the smart kitchen to make the iKettle its most famous resident to date?

"A lot of smart products in the kitchen don't actually add any value," agreed the founder of the Situ smart scales, Michael Grothaus.

"Turning something on and off in the kitchen isn't useful because you still have to get up and walk to that device to go and prepare your food or drink or whatever it is. We see it over and over again because cooking just isn't that simple. It mostly requires us to be there.

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"The problem is that the smart kitchen doesn't need to be smart. It needs to be super-smart. You're using these sensor and communication tools but you're trying to get organic elements, i.e food, to interface with them. With other areas of the house, it's all electrical and it's much easier to get data from them."

Grothaus, though, has managed to bridge the gap with his own smart kitchen product that can tell you all about the nutritional content of your food before you make the mistake of eating it.

Situ is a set of Bluetooth connected scales that weighs a single food item or ingredient and then sends the information over to an accompanying app which houses the information to tell you just how many calories your piece of cheese has got in it or how much Omega 3 is in your salmon fillet. It automatically records it, stores it and helps you get along with your dietary regime whatever your needs. It doesn't turn your oven on, it doesn't cook your roast to perfection but it does work and Grothaus himself claims to have dropped the 8st to prove it.

Situ has found a good way of working with food by analysing something objective about it that's easily measured – its weight, but there are companies out there trying to get a handle on some of those more nuanced, organic activities to bring useful connectivity to this trickiest of household rooms.

While it knows it hasn't cracked the smart kitchen yet, Electrolux is one of the home appliances companies leading the charge. In 2014, it showed off a connected steam oven complete with an interior mounted camera and an accompanying iOS and Android app which with you can view a live feed of what's going on inside. That means no repeated getting up away from your dinner guests or Game of Thrones to check you've not shrivelled your chicken down to a poussin, and it means no loss of heat and steam, and therefore no adding to the cooking duration every time you do so.


On top of that, the app is replete with a menu of recipes from top chefs along with the exact steam oven settings to make it all come out just lovely. Is it going to change the world? Maybe not, as the Design Director at Electrolux, Thomas Johansson, acknowledges but it does at least add that important sense of value.

"The idea behind the connected oven app is not to fundamentally change the way people cook, but to enhance their cooking experience," he says. "By providing access to tried-and-tested recipes and ensuring all the oven's settings are at an optimal level, the dish can be cooked in the ideal conditions creating a delicious result."

Well, we're glad to hear it and we'd certainly hope for something pretty special if we were buying an oven that's likely to come in at around $1000, but this isn't just a quick trick from Electrolux to make us think that it's progressive. The Swedish company, and its various brands, such as AEG, are on the drive with the full knowledge that while the kitchen may be lagging behind the rest of the house, it's definitely on the way.

"In the next five years we believe that smart kitchen appliances will make up 10 percent of the market, increasing from less than 1 percent available today," estimates Johansson.

"We predict the introduction of smart ovens, hobs and cooker hoods that can be monitored and controlled from a remote device and also connected together into an ecosystem using sensors and cameras. So, for example, your cooker hood knows what is happening on the hob and can anticipate through sensors when the fan or light needs to be activated."

For Situ's Michael Grothaus, though, that prediction might be a little too soon and, with the non-connectable barrier of the food itself in the way, we'd be inclined to agree.

"I think the kitchen will become the last room of the house that really becomes smart. I think the proper internet of things - where it becomes as common as the smartphones in our pockets - we're looking at about 2020. The smart kitchen, we're looking at 2025. I think it's 10 years away," Grothaus said.

There's a good chance that it's more than technical difficulties that are stymying its development, though. Reducing your gas and electricity bills are real financial implications that motivate just about everybody. Getting people to change their habits and install relatively expensive new smarter devices without such an obvious carrot is a harder sell. The trouble is that we're not presented with a windowed envelope or online bill four times a year that tells us how much cash we're throwing down the kitchen drain and, more specifically, into the bin.

According to Electrolux's figures, the total global food loss and waste stands at between 33-50 percent of what's actually produced for human consumption. Some of that takes place either in the field or on the way to your fridge but much of it occurs in the home too, and it's one of the company's missions in the future to focus on food preservation and to make it easier for consumers to lead healthy, more efficient lifestyles with respect to their diets.

What will some of those products look like?

Well, a smart bin that analyses organic waste products might be one option according to Grothaus but, right now, that's "Star Trek technology" as he puts it, which could help us to require just 50% of the food that's currently grown.

But, if personal economics and global issues aren't enough of an incentive to create the public desire that the smart kitchen probably needs to take off, then there's always the impending doom of one's own health that might finally lead us to switch on the sink and plug in our pans.

"By 2035, it's projected that about one third of the NHS budget, as it stands, is going to treat people with Type 2 diabetes with more than 1 in 10 people set to get some kind of diabetes in their lifetime, which is ridiculous," says Grothaus.

"It's a totally human-made condition. It's preventable and, if anything, the smart kitchen is going to be the tech to make people make better dietary choices.

"I would love it if the first big smart kitchen appliance – and I think this would catch on with everyone – could read what the food was; it could read the calorie content and it would know how to cook it. That could be a killer smart kitchen product. Hopefully, it will be something like that.

"What I do know for sure, though, is that it's not going to be the iKettle."

What do you think?

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