Refrigerators and other kitchen appliances might be quieter these days, but they are communicating more than ever.
Using mobile technology, new smart appliances can reduce energy usage and household waste, save time, simplify tasks and even lobby family members to pitch in and do their chores. Though not quite superpowers, their emerging capabilities might surprise those who are ready to replace old appliances. Here are six feats smart appliances can achieve in collaboration with homeowners.
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Cook a four-course meal all at once
Timing is a challenge for any home chef trying to serve main and side dishes at optimal temperatures, not to mention a series of courses, including appetizers and dessert. The new My Menu line of Franke ovens allows home chefs to plan a full menu on smartphones, pop up to four dishes at a time in the oven and allow the appliance to automatically program cook times. The My Menu app tells the cook to place each dish on a specific level and then the oven does the rest. The oven then "pings" the cook's smartphone when each dish is ready to come out, says Susan Serra, a certified kitchen designer based in Long Island, N.Y.
Prepare for company
A blind date is going well and may lead to coffee afterward. But is there creamer in the fridge? With appliance maker LG's HomeChat technology, our would-be Romeo can check the contents of his refrigerator with simple, conversational texting. Romeo can even ask his fridge which items are approaching or past their expiration dates and request recipes based on ingredients he already has.
In a bid to impress his date, he can upload pictures of his Italy trip from his smartphone to his LG fridge's LCD panel.
He also can command his LG HOM-BOT vacuum cleaner to do the floors before arriving home.
Cut grocery and energy bills
Several smart refrigerators on the market can send a list of their contents to homeowners who are out shopping. "That way, you don't end up buying food you already have," says Shirley Hood, a sales representative at Abt Electronics and Appliances in Glenview. Certain models also send alerts when foods are about to spoil (although homeowners must manually enter the expiration dates to activate this function), or when the refrigerator door has been left open.
To save on energy, a number of new appliances connect to utility company "smart grids" (where available) to activate appliances when demand is low. The Smart Start feature on Miele washers, dryers and dishwashers allow users to specify a time they want a load to finish, then the appliance works out a start time based on the lowest energy pricing.
Help the kids earn an allowance
Using Whirlpool's Smart Appliances with its "6th Sense Live technology" allows users to monitor appliances from afar, manage their energy usage and control key features remotely. Used in conjunction with Whirlpool's free WashSquad app, moms and dads can control laundry cycles and, to some extent, their kids.
The WashSquad app lets families assign laundry jobs and then track and reward completed duties on the app's Wash Board. WashSquad gives tutorials on how to address specific laundry challenges, such as grass stains on poly-cotton. Compatible with Whirlpool's Smart Duet Pair washer and dryer, the Smart Appliance app takes task management a step further, allowing mom to check laundry status and remind kids to transfer clean clothes to the dryer.
Stick to a diet
The LG refrigerator's Health Manager feature recommends individual recipes, in addition to daily and weekly meal plans, based on user profiles for each family member. Personal stats such as age, gender, weight and height are used to determine Body Mass Index, which is used as the basis of the individualized meal plans. Once a recipe is selected, the fridge can send the relevant information to an LG oven, which automatically preheats.
Inadvertently advance evil plots
Folks planning to upgrade to smart appliances should "maybe avoid seeing 'Maximum Overdrive' in the meantime," writes Engadget blogger Steve Dent, referring to the Stephen King horror film where machines come to life and attack humans.
Seriously, though, the possible threat of ownership isn't that machines will come alive and plot to take over the world. However, connecting appliances to the Internet does make them vulnerable to the dark side of connectivity, and there's at least one case of a refrigerator being used to send out malicious emails.
So be at least as smart as today's appliances. Read reviews, ask questions and do a risk/benefit analysis before buying.