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Super-smart appliances are on the way

Think kitchen appliances— and ovens, refrigerators, microwave and dishwashers come to mind. All are items easily taken for granted, but take a look around the recent CES 2017 show in Las Vegas and it will have you thinking of kitchen appliances in completely new and different ways.

With 3,800 exhibitors and 175,000 attendees, CES is the largest show of its kind for fans of consumer electronics, and new ‘smart home’ technology was everywhere on display. Appliance-maker Whirlpool used the show as an opportunity to introduce two new types of appliances including:

  • an electric composter/food recycler that takes leftover kitchen food waste and grinds it into useful fertilizerin 24 hours. The only food items it cannot handle are bones and fruit pits.
  • a micro-brewery/beer fermenting system that is literally the size of an appliance, that can sit in your kitchen and will convert ingredients into beer in less than seven days.

It may be a year or two before such appliances are available in the Canadian market, but expect them soon as appliance makers like Whirlpool find “new ways to bring benefits to life,” says Michelle Domet, senior brand manager for Whirlpool Canada.

A key point is that although a lot of the new technologies seem futuristic, they “are closer than you think,” says Domet. Whirlpool was also offering an advance look at some smart new features for their line of appliances and that it expects to bring to market this summer.

These include:

  • New ‘scan-to-cook’ technology for wall ovens, ranges and microwaves that will ensure the right settings every time you prepare a frozen food or packaged meal. Just scan the UPC barcode on a food package and it will send all cooking instructions to the oven.
  • New applications for Amazon’s Alexa voice-control technology that lets you issue voice commands to all your appliances such as ‘Please set and adjust cooking temperatures,’ or to set the time and type of cooking (bake, broil), or to ask the fridge to make ice faster via a Party Mode, and to ask a washing machine how much time remains in the washer cycle.

Aside from smart home technology buffs and so-called early adopters, the new technologies are also welcome news for those who advocate for people with disabilities.

“I can definitely see technologies (like voice command) being really useful for accessibility— imagine the application for those lacking sight, and even dexterity or touch issues,”says designer Melissa Tossell, owner of Sanura Design and a specialist in livability.

“Aside from the convenience factor, such features can fill a real need. Think about people who can’t open up things very well or someone who can’t see. Just ask your fridge if food has gone bad — having technology like that is great. Or if you have arthritis or chronic pain issues, having an appliance that you can talk to or help you make breakfast would be amazing in my eyes,” she adds.

In addition to the smart technologies, design improvements are also on the way. Domet says Whirlpool spends a lot of time studying the way consumers use and interact with their appliances and then works to develop features that solve a common problem and help families with their busy lives.

For example, the newest Whirlpool French Door Refrigerators will include a “door within-door” feature with its own cooling system and designated cold space that keeps milk and other drinks extra cold — perfect for busy families or dinner party hosts who are constantly opening and closing their fridge doors.

Another design improvement are fridge shelves that are precisely spaced apart and based on common sizes of food packages so that yogurts, spaghetti jars, 12-pack juice boxes and egg cartons can fit perfectly.

About the Author: Martin Slofstra is the editor of the Toronto Sun’s New Homes and Condos section

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