Mealtime Pilot Program Tests ‘Kitchen of the Future’

by WOHe

Mealtime Pilot Program Tests ‘Kitchen of the
Future’

By Janice Anne Costa


Americans have been fantasizing about the high-tech, futuristic
home since the days of The Jetsons. But, until recently, the idea
of an automated kitchen that could be programmed to make shopping
lists, order food, prepare meals and communicate with the homeowner
by phone seemed more like something you’d see in a science fiction
movie than in a real home.

Now, the concept of automation and connectivity in the kitchen
is far more science than fiction these days, and the proof of that
was premiered at this year’s K/BIS in Orlando, when the Internet
Home Alliance showcased its “Kitchen of the Future.”

Currently, a pilot program is underway in the Boston area to
test this kitchen concept in actual homes, allowing consumers to
get a taste of how modern technology can streamline and simplify
their lives.

Likewise, it will allow kitchen product manufacturers to find
out what kinds of technology solutions consumers want most in the
kitchen, and how they actually use technology in their day-to-day
lives information that can help them to not only improve their own
products, but to also engage in partnering opportunities that will
allow for the creation of multi-faceted design and technology
solutions.

Making A Connection
Developed by the Internet
Home Alliance, a non-profit network of companies dedicated to
advancing home technology, the Kitchen of the Future project is a
unique cross-industry collaboration that utilizes true
connectivity, according to Tim Woods, v.p./ecosystems development
for the Alliance. “This is the most ambitious test of networked
kitchen-based appliances and devices ever conducted!” Woods
enthuses.

The kitchen integrates a host of high-tech products from such
member companies as Whirlpool Corp., Sears, iCEBOX LLC, IBM and
Hewlett-Packard Co. The idea of connectivity is played out with
each of the products working in tandem with the others to create a
“smart” kitchen that not only simplifies food shopping, meal
planning and cooking, but even provides remote control over a
multitude of kitchen functions.

According to Woods, the Alliance was formed some 2-1/2 years ago
when “several companies got together feeling there was something to
this connectivity thing, and they wanted to know how it was going
to impact their businesses. First, they wanted to understand the
opportunities behind connectivity and broadband They did a needs
assessment study to identify what kind of help families are looking
for with entertainment, with work, with family Then we [examined
the existing technology we had that could be used to] provide
solutions.”

What consumers wanted most, it was determined, was “to have a
device or devices that worked in concert together to deliver a meal
when and where you wanted it, and [to] have control over [it]
outside of your home,” Woods notes. “We then had to recruit for the
solution, finding companies who were interested in the solution,
and who were developing products that were suited for it.”

Manufacturers like Whirlpool, with its Polara range and Conquest
side-by-side refrigerator and Web tablet, and iCEBOX, with its
Web-enabled entertainment/command center, were a natural fit, since
they already had products on the market that tied into these
solutions. It was then merely a matter of determining how to
interface these products in such a way so as to create a kitchen
that would truly benefit real-life users.

Working Kitchens
The next step was to create a pilot program to show users how well
the kitchen worked in real-time applications. Twenty families in
the Boston area were selected for the “Mealtime Pilot,” with an
emphasis on time-crunched families not averse to new
technology.

According to Woods, consumers participating in the pilot program
should be able to “manage kitchen and meal preparation tasks from
the oven, Web-enabled refrigerator tablet, Web-based entertainment/
command center and wireless-application-protocol cell phone.”

This means they can:

  • Put a dish in the oven before going to bed and program the oven
    to refrigerate, cook and cool the dish for a set mealtime the next
    day.
     
  • Adjust (if they’re running late) or cancel (if the family’s
    plans change) the oven function from their cell phones, mobile
    tablets or Web-enabled entertainment/command centers.
     
  • Receive text messages on their cell phones from the oven,
    confirming that evening’s cooking instructions.
     
  • Call their oven from their cell phones to see if they forgot to
    turn off the oven and turn it off from their cell phones.
     
  • Surf the Internet for recipes and coupons, create shopping
    lists and print those items or e-mail them to an on-line grocer for
    home delivery of groceries.
     

Lessons Learned
A lot of the project’s
value is that it provides consumer input based on consumers’
real-time experiences, Woods believes. “We decided we were going to
do pilots, so we wanted to put these things in real people’s homes
and have them interact with them and see if they liked it and what
they used it for,” he says.

“In the real world, when companies test these products, they
don’t usually pilot them, putting these products in other people’s
homes and seeing how the products interact and work together in
concert,” Woods continues.

“What we learn from the Mealtime Pilot program will drive much
of what we do in terms of future product development,” notes
Whirlpool Corp. V.P./Corporate Technology and Electronics Henry
Marcy V. “When it comes to home technology products and services,
consumers are going to buy solutions, so collaborative testing,
like the Mealtime Pilot, is becoming one of the most critical parts
of today’s consumer research equation.”

Woods believes that the findings will help manufacturers create
more effective technology solutions, and that this may even lead to
partnerships between companies that will allow for “better
technology solutions for everyone.”

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