The Future Kitchen, Today
Jane Jetson had only to push a button for dinner to be laid out on the table. We all sighed wistfully as we watched while the futuristic kitchen did all the dirty work. As I was organizing my cabinets after grocery shopping the other night, I was thinking about Jane Jetson and wondering when my future kitchen would arrive and what the color of the flying car would be that would deliver it. I started searching around on the internet, looking for glimmers of fully-automated electronic kitchen slave in the ether. I found a pantry that keeps track of your groceries, suggesting recipes for the night’s meal or reordering commonly used supplies as they run low; a counter top that can read ingredients, suggest baking techniques and display an interactive projection that teaches you the proper way to slice a fish for sushi. And then I was confused. The images I was looking at where not drawn, or computer generated, or fabricated for a movie set, they were real, and they are available now.
Watching a clip form Fulton Innovation’s project eCoupled I experienced a musty blast from the past-future. Like a scene from a futuristic television show, eCoupled’s test kitchen uses an autonomous, intelligent system that allows for wireless (and almost invisible) powering of blenders and stove-tops right on your counter, a cabinet-front display of your pantry inventory, as well as a screen for issuing instructions and reading temperature while you cook. By radio labeling food cartons, storage appliances can help manage the contents and track nutritional information, making suggestions to help you maintain a healthy diet (“do you really think you need one more candy bar, Tubby?”).
When it debuted at the largest technological tradeshow CES in 2011, eCoupled was far from the only working model of a futuristic kitchen. In August of 2012 a group of computer scientists from Philips Research in The Netherlands and Culture Lab at Newcastle University demonstrated the Ambient Kitchen, a “pervasive sensing environment designed for improving cooking skills, promoting healthier eating, and helping cognitively impaired people to live more independent in their own homes.” Evert J. van Loenen of Philips Research believes that by adding these adaptive user-systems, digital environments can be created “which improve the quality of life of people by acting on their behalf.” These innovations not only enable us to work more efficiently in the kitchen, they also attempt to improve our interaction with technology by making it more intuitive, efficient, and secure.
Philips Design: ‘larder’ is a dining room table that doubles as a food storage system and evaporative cooler– similar to a kind of natural refrigerator.
With every new advancement in technology, however shiny and bright and new, there are dissidents. Evgeny Morozov, writing for Slate Magazine, sees the ambient kitchen as an Orwellian nightmare, one that removes the unique human capacity for inspiration, experimentation and error, effectively undermining the human condition through technology. “As a result, chefs are imagined not as autonomous virtuosi or gifted craftsmen but as enslaved robots who should never defy the commands of their operating systems,” he writes. The Luddites took up this tome during the industrial revolution, tearing down textile machines and raising cries about the dehumanization that mechanization brings. As textile machines began mass producing the majority of the world’s clothing, many fashion designers kept to the hand made, individually designed article. I, however, simply do not have the 15,000 dollars to spend on a hand sewn Valentino dress. Morozov suggests that if tasks are delegated away from humans, we will somehow lose all sense of how to push forward, to improve and enhance our society; that, if machines are to take over daily tasks, we’ll have nothing left to do but sit on the couch and twiddle our thumbs. Yet, there are millions who pop a TV dinner in the microwave every night, to have more time to, as the name suggests, watch TV. Wouldn’t it be amazing if instead of the frozen dinner, we could have a gourmet meal sourced from Alice Waters at Chez Panisse? I don’t believe that machine produced Mona Lisas will ever overtake the original, but I am happy that I can remember it in an art history book.
Many of these developers believe the kitchen is “the heart of the home” and seek to build intimacy between parents and children, raise self-confidence, and provide robotic or computer coached learning experiences in the kitchen. Electrolux, an innovative appliance design company, works from extensive consumer-based research to determine what advancements would be most helpful, and design their products accordingly. Their futuristic kitchen concept is called, simply, “The Heart of the Home,” a revolutionary kitchen design that uses an amorphous surface for cooking and visual aids with i-pad like sensibilities. The company says the design was inspired by “the person driven by culinary curiosity using new technology without removing the essence of cooking.”
Electrolux “Heart of the Home” Concept
Developers are also looking toward technological advancements that would help the environment and create sustainable kitchens. Philips eco-friendly microbial home was on display at Dutch Design Week in Eindhoven in 2011, premiering a concept home design that “adopts a systemic approach to domestic activity, connecting machines into a cyclical system of input and output that minimizes waste.” Leading furniture and design company Ikea commissioned a report by The Future Laboratory entitled “On the Future of Kitchens”, which focuses on how environmental responsibilities will reshape our homes. Their aim is to develop kitchens where food is grown and stored, waste is recycled and turned into energy, and where computers help to track energy use and makes energy-efficient decisions for you. Natural refrigeration methods are being developed that use sand to keep things cool, reclaimed wood and stone for structural materials. There are even hopes of a fridge that helps to maintain and manage your emotional well-being by 2040.
In the future of futuristic kitchens we see trends toward family oriented technologies, around the clock on-call nutritionists, recipe and pantry management, and an ease of cooking and baking that allows for more time spent with our hands free. Maybe then we can find the time to make those moving sidewalks, jet packs and flying cars a reality.