Las Vegas’ annual Consumer Electronics Show has wrapped up for the year, and just like every other year, it was a Jetsons-esque carnival of futuristic electronics, homewares, and appliances. For every item that shows innovation or promise, there’s at least one more that appears to be the product of a failed brainstorming session where somebody suggests, “why not make this appliance connect to the internet?”
Right here are some of the highlights and lowlights of the show’s myriad food- and drink-related appliances.
Maybe it’s the snazzy lighting which screams “TECHNOLOGY!!!” but Panasonic’s inductive heating counter top and dinner table seem pretty cool. The countertop is effectively one big stovetop that only registers pots and pans, and heats up when you place them on it, while ignoring other objects (so it won’t fry your utensils or chopping boards). It apparently works with other devices to automatically adjust cooking time, but surely there’s some sort of manual control option to get around the possibility of annoyingly forced automation. The dining table does the same thing with plates, although it appears to require special plates, making it a little more unwieldy.
The trick to an actually useful product is not to try to make it do everything for people — that’s where French liquor giant Pernod Ricard went right with its Opn product. Your booze goes into smart “cartridges” that fit a standard bottle, and they talk to a smart tray that tells you what can be made with the alcohol you have on hand. It also prompts the cartridges to release an exact measure of alcohol, to keep your cocktail ratios right. But mercifully, Pernod has declined to add robotic arms to put your drinks together; the mixing is up to you. Cleverly, instead of slapping a screen on it (looking at you, internet fridge), there’s an app to go along with this device.
Remember when the internet fridge was first introduced at the very end of the 1990s? All sorts of appliance makers insisted on pushing it all throughout the early 2000s, and it never took, likely because a regular fridge coupled with a device that connects to the internet is a much more affordable proposition. Anyway, Samsung is still out there peddling the latest version, the Family Hub 2.0 (yes, the company updated last year’s version), which does everything the devices and appliances you own already do, but on your refrigerator door. It can look up recipes (but only from AllRecipes), it includes a bulletin board for families (for those who have never heard of magnets), and it can detect food spoilage for the very limited segment of the population with no sense of smell.
CNET reports that coffee and tea robots are all the rage at this year’s CES, flailing their little robotic limbs around in the name of caffeine. The hot drinks produced are reportedly quite good, but this is probably sleight of hand by giving the robot high quality beans or milk to work with. Sure, it’s passable, but the problem is that a human can probably make it better, since (at least on the third wave side) humans have tastebuds and adjust grinders and espresso machines on a daily basis.
If you’ve been to a gas station or office kitchen, you’ll note that automated coffee makers aren’t new — those push-button contraptions have been around for years, dispensing hot drain water extracted from the cheapest beans available. The all-singing, all-dancing ones at CES are too elaborate for home use by the non-rich, meaning they’re probably only intended to put a bunch of employees at mid to low-range coffee chains out of work.
How important is it for you to be able to control your toaster from a smartphone app? Just think — from the comfort of your bed, you could turn the toaster on, program it to brown that bread just the way you like it, and even have it lower the bread without you being physically present in the kitchen. One small problem — someone has to actually get up and put the bread in the toaster, meaning it’s only really useful if you are completely unable to wean your gaze from your smartphone for around five seconds. The manufacturer, Griffin Technology, also has a smart mirror, in case you felt the need for your mirror and your toaster to speak with each other.
Conceptually, Panasonic’s smart range hood doesn’t seem like a terrible idea, but in practice it’s a bit excessive. With cameras and sensors it records your meals and apparently “saves” your recipes, although it sounds like that saving is possibly a long-winded video recording of the entire cooking process. A dining table accompaniment can also snap photos of your dinner party, making it a very expensive camera set up to take only one type of photo.