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When 3D printing goes further than just plastic

When people think of a smart home, they think of a house filled with electronic gadgetry that can detect your presence and adjust the ambience of the home to fit your mood. You can easily imagine voice-activated controls all over the place; and what can’t be controlled by voice can certainly be done through the phone, which will be a kind of multipurpose remote control for everything.

When our home becomes a “smart” home, you can expect every section of the house to be improved by technology. But there’s no likelier place where technology would have the most impact than the kitchen. There are so many possibilities when it comes to the kitchen of the future.

For a glimpse of what the future has in store for the kitchen, you can look at what IKEA came up with in collaboration with famed design house IDEO, called Concept Kitchen 2025 (http://conceptkitchen2025.ideo.london).

This concept envisions a table of the future which has multifunctional uses. It’s a preparation surface, hob, dining table, work bench and children’s play area — all in one. But more than that, it’s a smart table. If you were to place an over-ripe tomato on it, IKEA’s Table for Living will deliver you a quick and easy recipe that makes use of very ripe tomatoes (this eliminates wastage). It’s also possible to cook on it via hidden induction coils that heat the inside of pots and pans rather than their surfaces, making the table very amenable for working and eating as well.

Meanwhile, The Modern Pantry takes on the role of the fridge as well. Think of it as a fridge with the doors removed so you can see exactly what you have left and thus won’t overbuy groceries. The refrigeration comes in the form of transparent containers that are individually temperature-controlled via an induction cooling technology embedded into the shelves.

This is all very cool stuff and of course that’s just a sampling of the kind of thing you can expect in the kitchen of the future. There are many companies working on redefining what a kitchen should be. Here are the general broad areas of development you can look forward to in the very near future.

Phone as the hub

As mentioned, the phone — which is already the centre of our personal universe — will play a huge role in the smart home and will certainly be a critical component of the kitchen of the future. It will be a kind of remote control device that allows us to monitor and control various things in the kitchen, including pre-heating an oven.

You could be on your way home from work and you could get your oven started even before you arrive. Programmable and remote-controlled appliances allow users to start the cooking and go off to do other chores. We can be automatically alerted by phone when the food is ready.

Smart devices

Most of the appliances we use in the kitchen will become smart appliances. What that means will vary from company to company but there are common denominators. Smart appliances generally have the ability to interface with other devices (more on that in the Internet of Things section below) and they ultimately help to save us time and provide more convenience.

Multitasking is a reality of modern life. Traditionally, kitchens are suitable for one thing only: cooking. But many companies are already working on kitchen equipment that has Internet connectivity and some kind of user interface that makes it possible to browse the Net — not just for recipes but for checking emails, make Skype calls and other social or work-related activities. You can throw away the cookbooks. A few taps and you can access a database of recipes, complete with video instructions.

Internet of Things (IoT)

The key to making appliances truly “smart” is connectivity. IoT refers to objects being embedded with electronics, software, sensors and connectivity so they can collect information and communicate with each other.

A simple example of how this can work is your oven could trigger a text message to let you know when the food you’re roasting is ready. Your refrigerator could perform some basic inventory management and automatically place an order to an online grocery store order based on pre-set prices you’d like to pay for certain items. IoT can also help you with achieving a healthy diet. For example, your blender can link to a fitness monitor on your watch or phone to determine how much calories you’d burned that day. It can then link to your fridge to find out what fruits or vegetables you have in there and come up with a suitable concoction for you.

3D Printing

When people think of 3D printing, they tend to think of manufacturing physical objects but the same process that creates objects via 3D printing can be used to create food. A start-up called Natural Machines is coming up with a device called Foodini which can act as a “food manufacturing plant in people’s kitchens.”

Its counter-top device allows you to create different types of food items through an extrusion system that uses stainless steel cartridges filled with whatever raw ingredients you wish to put into the food item you wish to make. It’s not just sweet food like cookies that you can make; it’s also possible to make savoury food like burgers, nuggets and even pizza. You could easily imagine whole new industries emerging providing all the ingredients needed to fill the cartridges to make the different kinds of sweet and savoury food.

The kitchen of the future maybe?

Health & Wellness

The kitchen of the future will help usher in healthy eating to a new level. As mentioned earlier, IoT will allow your appliances to connect with your health monitoring device — whether it’s in your watch or phone — in order to help create the right type of food for you based on your nutritional needs.

If your fitness profile is stored in the cloud, it would actually be possible for you to get the right type of food made for you when you visit your friend’s house, assuming they have a IoT-enabled smart kitchen as well. Their blender can whip

you up the right shake and their 3D Printer can produce for you pizza with just the right type of ingredients and calories for your profile.

Keeping It Green

A smart kitchen ought to save us time and money. It ought to keep us healthy. And it should also help us with one important aspect of life in the 21st century, which is to help us maintain an environmentally-friendly lifestyle. In the kitchen, that usually means energy savings and reducing food wastage.

Smart appliances will also be more energy and resource-efficient. Smart dishwashers will not only use less electricity, they’d also be able to determine the amount of items to be washed and apply just the right amount of soap and water to get the job done. One of the reasons food gets wasted is the wrong amount of food is cooked when you’re preparing for many people. Smart appliances will be able to tell you exactly how much food to cook when you input the number of people you’re cooking for. It’ll also be able to tell you exactly how much of each ingredient to put in and that precision will go a long way towards reducing wastage.

Something to look forward to

The kitchen of the future can be the most technologically-innovative part of your house and best of all, much of the technology described is already here, albeit at a nascent stage. For sure, all these wonder devices will be super expensive at first but as with all popular technological advancements, over time it’ll become both commonplace and affordable.

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