By M. Fitzmorris & K. Bevan

When it comes to technology in the kitchen the aims of are efficiency, precision, convenience, and space maximization. These aims transcend time and will be evident in a comparison of technology from any decade to the next. Technological developments typically work in conjunction with the lifestyle and aesthetic trends of the day and such is the case with wireless, touch screen technology in the kitchen. It is a technology already at the forefront of our modern lives, we use it everyday, in our smart phones or computers and now companies are integrating this technology into everyday kitchen appliances.

The Past

Photo Courtesy of Robotics World

Technology in the kitchen addresses the needs of the common cook, and therefore is inextricably linked to society, current events, the economy, and more directly, the organization of a typical family.  Most of the kitchen appliances we use today, such as the peeler, food mixer, dishwasher, and corkscrew; were invented in the post-civil war period. Most housewives now worked alone in the kitchen and needed culinary help. Even more devices were invented following the introduction of electricity. The numerous developments in kitchen technology during the 1800’s were intended as labor saving devices that would lessen the burden of cooking three meals a day.

In the not-too-distant past, cooking was considered work to be performed privately in the kitchen, and the kitchen was intended only for cooking. In the 1920’s the typical kitchen was equipped with an iron stove that made the room terribly hot. As a result, the kitchen was not a comfortable place to be, and an unlikely place to socialize (Elias, Megan J). This began to change in the late 20th century. The kitchen became a place to gather and interact with the family and even entertain. Technology addressed that transition by making the kitchen a more comfortable and safe place to be.

On reason for the change was the appropriation of cooking as a hobby by the upper middle class. Gourmet homemade cooking became a sort of “intellectualized leisure activity”. Blenders, food processors, and coffee/pasta/bread machines were necessities.  It is unclear as to whether these devices actually saved time and labor, or merely increased the demands on the domestic cook when it came to creativity (Bar Bugge, www.sifo.no). The intention was to make the complex cuisine more accessible to the amateur chef by cutting down on prep time. In this way, technology addressed the needs of the cook of the day – which were efficiency and precision.

Technology Today

The kitchen is now considered the epicenter of the home, but the typical kitchen is not a place for the electronic communication devices that we have become so dependent on. There are food-related web sites and applications for our mobile devices that allow you to browse recipes, watch cooking tutorials, create grocery lists, use your smartphone as a kitchen timer, a conversion tool and even an ingredient substitution list. Consumers can access all of this cooking knowledge from to their computer or mobile phone yet kitchen counters are a vulnerable place for wireless devices, where they can be splashed by water and cooking grease.

“We found that consumers are not happy with having their laptops on the counter top. It’s too risky that the laptop will fall or liquid will spill on the keys. For example, laptops in the living room are used for work or supplementing the entertainment system; however, they’re awkward and less convenient for kitchen-based chores” said Carol Priefert, senior manager of global consumer insights and technology for the global product organization at Whirlpool, TechNewsWorld (Germain, Jack). The demand to access the information on our wireless devices in our kitchen is prevalent, and engineers are working to integrating this information into our kitchen appliances.

What’s Next?

Engineers are working on harnessing the technology in our mobile phones and laptop computers to bring wireless technology seamlessly into the kitchen. Some kitchen appliances have integrated web-connected touch-screens just like we use on our smart phones, which will enable browsing for recipes and cooking videos, timers, widgets, and even a bar code scanner for processed foods, right on the appliance itself. Cooks of any level are guided by colorful photographs and can utilize the features by choosing their cooking time and temperature from a screen menu of photographs representing preset cooking modes.

Check out these exciting new kitchen appliances fr0m top names in the industry:

1. At Fulton Innovations they debuted their magnetically activated counter top at this year’s Consumer Electronics Show.

The appliances in this video run on radio frequency (RF) technology, which is integrated into the countertop. Allowing the same surface to go from one that you boil water on to a surface where you could do homework. This is ultimate space maximization.

Photo Courtesy of Electrolux

2. The latest product offerings from Electrolux feature control panels that appear blank and dark until touched to light up and reveal a bright color display allowing the operation of various functions. Also like our smart phones, the displays on the new lines of these premium appliances use touch sensors to detect and tell the panel to turn on, and when touch is no longer sensed, they turn off to leave a sleek, blank display.

3. With the latest from Gorenje, you will no longer need to write down a favorite recipe. With their “MYbake” program you can make dishes cooked to your taste every time. The program stores the settings in its memory to be accessed any time you want it:  http://www.gorenjegroup.com/en/livingkitchen2011-pressroom/ichef-revolutionary-oven-touch-control

Though touch screens will continue to evolve and become popular, suppliers must always think a step ahead. Suppliers are starting to explore the next technological advancement to provide options that go beyond touch and respond to “wave on technologies”, a touchless sensor.

“Texas Instruments, Whirlpool, and other companies are working together to design a high tech kitchen incorporating voice- and motion activated appliances, digital projectors, and other interactive technology. As an example, they say the future kitchen will be able to recognize a family member upon entry, start the coffee, and project the morning newspaper.” (Germain, Jack)

Our Thoughts

As designers it is always important to consider technology, but how can we predict the next big invention in the kitchen? Wireless and touch screen technology were spurred by somewhat unpredictable social trends. When it comes to domestic kitchen technology of the future, we need look no further than the commercial kitchen of the present.  The devices of restaurants, cafes, and bakeries have all become standard tools in our home.

In Japanese cafeterias, you will commonly find a beer dispensing robot. Actually it’s a simple machine with a robotic arm that is programmed to tilt a glass at different angles while beer is poured, achieving the perfect pour every time. This device may seem like an unlikely candidate for the domestic setting, but consider all the other products with commercials origins that found their way into our kitchens. The water and ice dispensers, once found only at a waiter’s service station in a restaurant, are now a standard feature of any refrigerator. Boiling water dispensers were originally intended for filling stock pots on the stove, intended to eliminate the need for chefs to carry pots of boiling water across the room. The espresso machine takes all the guesswork out of an espresso or cappuccino. Both of these tools are commonplace in a luxury domestic kitchen today. Essentially any device that can save time and space while boosting efficiency, precision and convenience, is a good candidate for domestic use.

Bibliography

Bellis, Mary. “The History of Kitchen Appliances”. About.Com. http://inventors.about.com/od/kstartinventions/a/kitchen.htm)

Bar Bugge, Anachen. “Cooking as Identity Work”.  Center of Rural Research. http://www.um.es/ESA/papers/St3_22.pdf

Elias, Megan J. Food In the United States. 1890-1945. Greenwood Press.  Santa Barbara, CA Denver, Co Oxford, England

Germain, Jack M. 01/04/10. TechNewsWorld. http://www.technewsworld.com/story/High-Tech-Avoids-the-Mess-in-Voice-Activated-Future-Kitchen-69015.html

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