Imagine getting home, finding your fridge full, the oven warming up your favourite snack and the latest football results popping up on your microwave door. It may all sound like wishful thinking after a few drinks, but the truth is your kitchen is about to go through a hi-tech makeover that will make your current gadgets look positively retro.
Every kitchen ends up as the happening place at parties and it is without question the hub of family life, so what better room in the home to get wired up? You could have all your appliances communicating with each other and being smart enough to carry out chores like compiling shopping lists, reminding you of friends' birthdays and even telling you when to feed the dog.
Food glorious food
With the kitchen centred around food, one of the first appliances to get the internet connection will be the fridge. Frigidaire, Bosch, Siemens and Whirlpool have all been busy developing networked fridges.
Whirlpool's 'intelligent' fridge is one of the most advanced and comes with a detachable Webpad fitted neatly into the door. The wireless pad is fitted with a small keyboard that will let you do everything from surfing the net to dealing with email on the move.
The Webpad's interface is totally customisable, so that it can be adapted for members of the family who are not techno savvy, but want the functionality of a networked kitchen.
The Webpads's abilities don't stop there. Having people to dinner and not knowing what to cook will no longer be a problem. Program the pad to download recipes whilst you are at work, and you can rustle up an impressive gourmet delight for your guests when you get home.
Compiling shopping lists is a doddle too. Attach a scanner to the device and enter bar codes on empty food containers as you use them. The intelligent fridge can also tell you what is out of date and destined for the bin. Both lists can be merged, emailed to your supermarket and, as if by magic, your groceries will be delivered to your door within hours.
Whirpool has also demonstrated a networked oven that can download recipes from an integrated browser and automatically program the appliance with the correct cooking time and heat regulation. These prototype products are just the first of a complete line that Whirlpool has under development following the announcement of agreements to partner with technology heavyweights Cisco Systems and Sun Microsystems in the development of its Networked Home Solutions Initiative.
Philips has been working heavily on the design of wired kitchen products and has come up with a prototype screen resembling a sturdy terracotta oven dish that is voice activated and internet connected. It's even come up with an answer to that 'no free hands' dilemma - an intelligent apron that can voice activate networked kitchen appliances. When the food eventually gets to the table you can keep it warm via your interactive tablecloth which provides cable-free power to all electric gadgets on the table while the tablecloth itself remains cool.
Decided to take Vanessa Feltz's lead and shed a few pounds? Your networked kitchen can help you there. Sunbeam has come up with a set of bathroom scales that can record your weight gains and losses and send the information to your kitchen network, which can work out suitable recipes for you and even order the food. It's even possible to get the fridge to rap your knuckles verbally when you reach in for that last cream cake.
Worried about all the extra money you're spending on that Hollywood diet? Click onto your NCR internet-enabled microwave and you can get your bank balance up on the web whilst you watch your dinner being nuked.
Even familiar names take on a whole new meaning in the hi-tech kitchen. Take the iCEBOX, for example. Brought to you by the US makers of the infamous breadmaker, the iCEBOX will not add anything to your G & T, but it will give you cable-ready TV and internet access.
The iCEBOX countertop appliance provides an internet connection through CMI's portal, and as well as email and surfing can also provide customised information such as traffic reports. Oh, and it can also play CDs. The downside is you will have to wait until this summer to buy it in the US, and it will cost around $500.
All sounds great, but what happens when things go wrong or you want to upgrade an appliance? Consumer electronics manufacturers are all working on diagnostic facilities for everything from dishwashers to washing machines that can electronically feed information back to the manufacturer so they can tell exactly where the fault is when you call. Some are clever enough to forecast the problem before it happens!
Upgrades will become as commonplace as they are in the computer industry today. If your upgrade creates a technical hitch between say your juicer and the coffee-maker, just download a patch from the internet with your Webpad.
Not convinced? Sunbeam has already shown off a wake-up system attached to a network that kicks your coffee maker into action as soon as it goes off. Now doesn't that sound like the early morning heaven you want to live in?
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