Internet-connected kitchen appliances – such as toasters that tweet when your bagel is done – have long been a joke of the tech industry, but designer Ashley Legg may have come up with the first such product you’d actually want to own: the Smart Fridge.
The Smart Fridge, which can be seen in artists-impression-action over on Yanko Design, is built with one aim in mind: to track your provisions and advise you on suitable meals accordingly. To further this aim, the futuristic – and hopefully fairly well insulated – glass front is actually an electrochromic panel which can be turned opaque at the press of a button. Once in opaque mode, the entire front of the refrigerator section becomes a touch-sensitive display.
It’s in this mode that the ‘smart’ part of the device’s title becomes apparent: simply tell the refrigerator what you’re filling it with, and it will track your stock – alerting you if you start running low on any of the essentials.
That’s not its main purpose, however: by keeping a digital eye on what’s inside, the Smart Fridge is able to select recipes from its large internal database based on the food you have to hand – displaying only the options that it knows you are able to make with the food available.
Once a recipe is selected, the foodstuffs required are highlighted – providing you told it where in the compartment you put them – and when retrieved the device offers step-by-step voice instructions on how to combine them into a tasty, healthy meal.
It’s a neat concept, and one which promises to make people’s hectic lives easier – after all, who has time to root through the refrigerator and figure out exactly how much of everything they have, or spend time selecting a recipe only to find they’re missing a vital ingredient or two – but it’s not without its flaws.
First and foremost is the display: it’s large, it’s science-fiction-esque, and it’s far too expensive a gimmick to endow a humble white good with. Yes, the Smart Fridge is designed to be a luxury item, but people still have expectations of how much a refrigerator would cost – and if it’s too far off the mark, it’d be a hard sell even if it made the meals for you.
Second is the requirement to manually add foodstuffs to the tracking database. While the easiest option would be radio frequency ID, or RFID, tags on all the purchased food that could be automatically scanned and cataloged by an integral reader would require a lot of co-operation on the part of the food packaging industry – and likely give privacy-nuts a series of heart attacks across the country – it seems that a barcode scanner that could look product information up via a UPC database service such as the free Internet UPC Database would be both cost-effective and a significant time-saver over manual entry.
Finally, there’s one last issue to contend with: most, if not all, recipes call for ingredients from both your refrigerator and your cupboards – whether it’s adding gravy browning, thickening your sauces with cornstarch or flour, or just adding a pinch of salt and pepper to taste, the Smart Fridge is going to need to know what’s in the kitchen as a whole in order to advise you. Sadly, that’s probably more effort than just keeping a mental tally – at least until someone designs a matching set of Smart Cupboards.
Ashley Legg’s Smart Fridge remains, and sadly for those who like to inject a little science fiction into their daily routine is likely to remain, merely a concept.