What will the kitchen of the future look like? In a word, crowded.
Tech startups, large appliance manufacturers, chefs and foodies gathered in Seattle last week for the Smart Kitchen Summit to display and discuss the technology that's supposed to make cooking easier and food taste better.
Large appliance companies have been slow to adopt smart kitchen tech -- it's much harder to be nimble and responsive to innovation when you make products like ovens that are supposed to have a shelf life of 10 years or more. So small tech startups have scrambled to create products that appeal to folks who want their food and the devices on which they cook it to be like their lifestyles: connected, convenient and Instagram-worthy.
Don't count the big guys out just yet, though. Larger companies have taken notice of smart home trends and teamed up with some of the new kids in the kitchen. Recent examples include the luxury appliance brand Jenn-Air teaming with tech startup Innit or the German manufacturer Bosch working with Drop, a smart scale company.
The results of this quest to appeal to the tech-minded foodie are lots of countertop devices that do much of the heavy lifting of cooking for you, along with a few gadgets that offer questionable usefulness for the average kitchen. Many of these products are in their infancy. Several companies at the summit had launched crowdfunding campaigns to pay for the development of their inventions, so there's a chance we may never see them make it to retail, or to our countertops. Others were available for folks to buy or preorder, but at prices that are still out of reach for the average person.
Here are some of the smart kitchen gadgets and trends that are worth getting excited about (and a few that might cause you to question your faith in the tech world).
Ovens that recognize your food
Forget full-size ranges, wall ovens and cooktops. Three tech startups are turning to countertop devices the size of microwaves or toaster ovens for a different way to approach food. These ovens are all connected to Wi-Fi so you can monitor your cooking through an app on your device, and each has its own set of capabilities intended to make cooking easier and more precise.
The $1,500 June Intelligent Oven, which the company expects to start shipping during this holiday season, will use cameras and face recognition technology to recognize the foods you're putting inside of it. Once it knows what you're making, it can automatically set the cook settings that are best for your dish. The Tovala Oven, also slated for an end of 2016-early 2017 release (the company hasn't set the retail price yet), has a different take on food recognition: You sign up for a food delivery service (similar to Blue Apron or Plated) that brings you meals with a bar code. The Tovala will scan that bar code and cook the meal based on the specific foods inside. And Anova, maker of a popular , will take a stab at the countertop oven with the Anova Precision Oven. The appliance, which is set for release in summer 2017, will sear, convection bake, steam cook, sous vide and connect to the .
All of these appliances have significant limitations, such as the small amount of cooking space (you'll still have to use a full-size oven to cook that 13-pound Thanksgiving turkey) and, in the case of the June, a price that's comparable to that of a full-size oven.
Appliances that only do one thing, aka 'unitaskers'
Some of the products at the Smart Kitchen Summit are fine with having just one job rather than being a multitasker. Take the Flatev, single-serve tortilla maker that's like a Keurig for flatbread. More than 660 people pledged nearly $136,200 during the product's fully funded Kickstarter campaign, so there's definitely a demand. But the creators estimate that the Flatev will cost between $400 and $600 when it becomes available for purchase in 2017 -- and that doesn't even include the price of the dough pods you have to buy.
A cheaper unitasker on display was the Cluck. You throw the orange, egg-shaped temperature sensor into a pot of water, and it will send you alerts via an app when your water is ready and boiling. Cluck's creators, who are running a crowdfunding campaign on Indiegogo, estimate that the device will retail for about $35, which is a relatively low point of entry for trying out a smart cooking gadget that might actually be useful.
Guided cooking systems
Some devices at the Smart Kitchen Summit don't want to do all the cooking for you. Instead, these cooking systems want to teach you how to be a better cook with apps that tell you what to do, connected cookware and temperature probes that monitor your food and induction burners that regulate the cooking temperature.
The Cuciniale system, which just started a Kickstarter campaign this week, uses a connected temperature probe to communicate with an induction cooktop that adjusts its heat levels accordingly, similar to what we've seen with GE's Paragon Induction Cooktop. And the Cuciniale app guides you step by step through recipes. The Hestan Cue smart system is similar to the Cuciniale, but this company replaces a temperature probe with Bluetooth-connected cookware reminiscent of the smart frying pan. The Hestan Cue is set to be available next year.
What does it all mean?
The kitchen has lagged behind in getting connected to the rest of the smart home. But small startups and big appliance companies realize that people want to add more technology to our cooking routine that will integrate into our connected lives. Plus, there's money to be made.
Companies want to make a product that will become the next microwave. Based on what I saw at the Smart Kitchen Summit, this means that manufacturers will need to continue working with small tech startups that have the software know-how, dexterity and inventiveness to build user experiences that make cooking easier.
I also expect that many more small companies will create connected cooking gadgets that meet weirdly specific needs to attract a lot of attention. FirstBuild's Opal Nugget Ice Maker or the Anova Precision Cooker. The biggest challenge for these creators is to prove to us that their product is worth a place in our home and cooking routine. In other words, that a Keurig for tortillas deserves a spot on your cramped counter next to the coffeemaker.have caught on before -- just look at the crowdfunding success of
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