WTF are... connected appliances?
I want my automated kitchen, and I want it now
The ‘internet fridge’ is a much-loved staple of futurologists. In some rosy and not-too-far-off future, many kitchens will have one, magically replenishing itself so that you never need run out of black pudding or milk.
When you’re low on such essentials, the fridge will automatically order new ones from the supermarket, and fresh supplies will arrive in the nick of time.
Or perhaps it’ll tell you what you can make for dinner, based on your dietary preferences and what it's containing, taking into account when things need to be eaten by.
Never again will you find a decomposed cucumber lying forgotten at the bottom of the salad drawer.
That’s the theory, at any rate. Clever appliances can help us eat better, reduce waste and make life simpler. So why aren’t our kitchens – and the rest of our homes – full of intelligent connected appliances?
'Buy some milk on your way home'
LG's net-connected refridgerator
Always find me in the kitchen at parties
While a fridge that automatically orders food might sound interesting, actually making one that works is fraught with difficulty. Many of the technologies used to work out what’s going in and out - RFID (Radio Frequency ID) chips, for example - make more sense in a warehouse than they do in a kitchen.
It’s simple to count the number of packets of sausages on a palette, for example, but RFID won’t tell you when some sneaky so-and-so's decided to put the box back in the fridge with just one left. Without widespread deployment of RFID, you’ll have to scan barcodes, effectively checking things in an out of the fridge like some bored shop-worker.
Even with RFID, unless you have sensors everywhere, how will the fridge know it’s milk, not water, that it’s weighing in a half-full bottle in the door-rack? What if you lie the bottle flat on the shelf? Will you remember to scan dry food you take from the cupboard as well?
And without a common online shopping API, what happens if the new fridge isn’t compatible with your supermarket?
Next page: All washed up
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This stuff always reminds me of Sirius Cybernetics' GPP feature (Genuine People Personality, thank you, Douglas Adams). As I told one "ambient intelligence" guru at a conference, I don't want chatty (and smug) doors, fridges that order beer for me (and thus have access to my bank account!!) and least of all a Nutrimatic Machine (which, despite its intelligence, only makes cups filled with a liquid which is almost, but not quite, entirely unlike tea). A system that automatically puts on "my favourite" music when I get home is likely to get a reprogramming it will never forget (with a very large ax) if it gets it wrong (yet again).
Town Called Eureka
This will only end badly, I can remember an episode of the TV series "a Town Called Eureka" where the main characters house computer (with a suitably feminine voice and persona) locks him out of his house because he didn't come home in time when "she" had cooked him dinner and informed him earlier when it was going to be ready.
Last thing we need is our appliances throwing hissy fits.
Come to think of it "Talkie the Toaster" from Red Dwarf should also serve as a warning
Sell by, use by, best before . . .
If there is a tiny weeny chance of the product looking slightly not at its best, an ingredient that may have changed a bit, the smallest possibility of a change in taste -- bin the fucker!
Then go and buy a replacement that will sit in the fridge until it's chucked out.
How come I don't think that this idea of 'intelligent (pah!) fridges' has the interests of the consumer at heart? I doubt if it even has anything to do with litigation.
And at the same time people are being prosecuted for rescuing perfectly good food from bins - a £4 sandwich that has yesterday's date on it or even today's date but it's late afternoon and the lunch rush is over -- bin it.
Michael Marshall Smith had the right idea with Stark who sympathises with the household appliances so they don't rat on him when he breaks in to places.
"Why not have lightbulbs that have customised usage patterns, so they will fade during the day and brighten at night, and capable of detecting smart phones in a room to turn the light off when a smart phone leaves customisable from a web UI"
Grown too lazy to flick a switch?
"Why not have WIFI/IR/bluetooth/NFC whatever connected hinges on doors that are capable of opening or closing doors, have the door tied to your smart phone, you approach the door smartphone in pocket it opens"
b) so any neverdowell can knock you out and use your smartphone to lead him to your house and open the doors for him?
"Why not have connected, windows/blinds allowing you to adjust the light in a room according to the time of day"
Hint: you can do it now - just pull the bloody cord!
"Why not have web connected showers/baths allowing you to fill the tub ready for when you're home"
Presumably you are normally in such a rush that you jump into the bath fully dressed? Because if not, there is usually plenty of time for the bath to fill while you undress, pick your book, make a drink, etc.
"Why not have some bloody vision, we're living in the most exciting time in the history of man"
You call *that* vision?
"your house in 10 years would be like the fucking Enterprise-E"
I bet it won't. It will just be filled with pointless electronics which will constantly fail, no one will remember one 10th of its functions or how to program them and it won't do neither impulse nor warp speed.
I thought everybody had this in their house already?
It's called a Building Management System (BMS)
I have a BMS in my home that controls all those things - PIR occupancy sensors, light sensors, the TV remote can adjust the lights and heating, and there's touchscreens around if the remote is lost down the sofa.
Plus some spare capacity for some fun christmas lights when I get around to it.
(I don't have atuomatic doors because I don't want them)
Of course, my job is to design and commission these systems - we drive lights, blinds, SmartGlass-style windows, video projectors, projection screens and interface to HVAC among other things.
The reason you don't have this yourself is probably down to the cost of the expertise to design and commission these systems. They are extremely powerful and flexible, so it takes a while to learn both waht they'll do and how to make them do it.