Kitchen Technology: Internet of Things is Not Ready for Prime Time

By phatch, Aug 6, 2015 | |
  1. If you follow the Consumer Electronics Show, or home automation or kitchen appliances at all, you'll have seen a number of connected kitchen appliances from coffee makers to refrigerators come on the market. Unless you have a very specific and comparatively short term need, these are probably not the best devices for you to get. 

    There are a number of different issues involved in the Internet of Things, specifically as it applies to homes and kitchens.  In broad terms there are a few main areas of concern and they do tie in to each other in different ways. 
    • Competing Standards
    • Life of product
    • Security
    • Sensors
    Standards

    Product vendors often create their own ways of doing things. Having their own standard locks you into their product. If their tools have a lot of users, they can become the defacto standard. Which gives them market strength and licensing fees from competitors. Home automation has seen a number of standards come and go already.  Beyond that list is also Wemo, Apple HomeKit and Google Brillo.

    For the person who casually picks up a wifi enabled slow cooker, standards aren't a concern and invisible to her use of the product. She installs the app on her phone, connects the cooker to her home network and it all works.  The problem becomes more apparent if she later buys a coffeemaker, range, and refrigerator from all completing vendors. That means a separate app and set up for  each device, they don't talk to each other and so there's a lot of manual fiddling around. 

    Or if you want your thermostat to start warming the house at the same time as your coffeemaker gets going, having those on a unified system and interface is desirable. 

    Lifespan

    So anything you buy now, you want to be able to upgrade to whatever future standard you might invest in or that becomes the accepted standard some years down the line. This is particularly important for products with long life spans: thermostats, refrigerators, ovens, ranges. 

    If your product has a long life and a whole software interface based on something like Android, then you have to know how updates and upgrades will be handled. Dacor, Samsung and others have all released appliances with built-in tablets. Given how both Apple and Google stop supporting hardware a few years old, this is a problem for these appliances. You'll get stuck on an old and now incompatible interface for what you're buying and using in the future. As well as losing support for security patches. You don't want a hacker turning your refrigerator to unsafe food temperatures or turning on your stove while you're on vacation.  

    How long will the app on your phone keep working?  Will you have to keep an old phone on your plan so you can still interact with your devices at home because Dacor hasn't updated it to work with the new system? 

    Similarly, wifi standards are evolving fairly quickly. Can you find a router that supports wifi a anymore? My latest router recommends turning off b/g as well for better speeds overall. Your home network infrastructure will need to be able to support what in the future will be "old" appliances. Or the appliance needs to be upgradeable.

    Security

    So security ties into this in some clear ways. You need products that have a long-term support path both on the device and the remote interface. You need products that can be upgraded to what becomes the standard. 

    You need to consider the security of the system. Home wifi is not particularly secure but is the backbone on which these things communicate.  Older wifi standards are progressively less secure. Ideally, you'd be able to modularly upgrade the wifi on your appliance to keep it current and secure. 

    And the same thing applies to the standard itself. If you bought a door lock on the first edition of a standard and couldn't patch vulnerabillities as they're discovered, that's a pretty worthless door lock. The appliances coming out now are not built with these concepts in mind. 

    Sensors

    For cooking purposes, there are lots of good tools on the market. But one area of desirable automation is in the refrigerator. It would be nice if your refrigerator could tell you what you're low on. But let's look at that more closely. 

    http://www.cnet.com/products/firstbuild-chillhub-refrigerator/

    To measure your milk, you need to have a scale that knows a full jug weight and can track that weight for you. Great, that's not too hard. But now you have to always put your milk back in the same place. Again, that's not too hard for something like milk. But what about your ketchup? Mine tends to migrate to a couple of different places. Or vegetables in my crisper. Which vegetable is in which place can vary with the seasons. Or how much of it there is and how it fits. if I have to program which cheese is in which location every time I move it, that's no good. If our bags and containers have RFIDS, this could become easier. 

    Essentially, the technology isn't there yet for these tools to automate well together and for the long term. It's exciting what we can do. But it's of limited long term value right now. 

    Share This Article

Comments

To make a comment simply sign up and become a member!