Internet-connected fridges just aren’t cool

by , Digital Producer Energy & Home 13 January 2011
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It seems like everything’s trying to get ‘smarter’ these days, but do we really need our kitchen appliances to join in? With Wi-Fi connected fridges at CES this year, hasn’t this gone too far?

LG's smart fridge

In front of me is a flyer for the white-goods manufacturer LG, picked up by one of my colleagues at last week’s CES 2011 technology show in Las Vegas. On the front cover is a picture of a fridge freezer.

At least I presume it’s a fridge freezer, as it’s the size of a stainless steel armoured tank (does such a thing exist? If not, surely it would be a breeze to clean the mud off after a hard day in a war zone) and has double doors with a couple of filing-cabinet-style drawers for good measure. Anyway, I digress.

What caught my eye is that the fridge has a speech bubble coming out of it with a picture of a box of eggs. And on one of the fridge doors there’s a touchscreen. The accompanying text reads ‘LG Home Appliance. Smarter. Knows what you need before you do.’

Now this is more like it! This is The Future™. Or it would be if I thought there was even the most remote chance that this would make it into the average Briton’s life within the next decade.

I don’t want a ‘clever’ fridge

Delving deeper into these claims that my domestic appliances will know better than I do whether my eggs are past their use-by date, I see that this is known as LG’s “Food Management Solution”. It transpires that this requires more effort on my part than the fridge’s.

Now, as well as going to the supermarket, buying the food, carting it home, unpacking it and cooking it, I must slot in the additional task of scanning its barcode on my fridge and inputting its use-by date. Then, when I forget that the eggs have expired, my fridge can remind me via a text message, email or by waggling its antenna at me and clucking like a chicken (okay, I made that last bit up).

Well let me tell you, fridge, my life is too short for this. I want to be chilled out as much as you, but this won’t happen if I’m getting text messages from you all day reminding me that I’ve run out of smoked salmon, or that botulism is lurking in my half-eaten bowl of baked beans.

Kitchen appliances shouldn’t be complicated

It gets worse. Apparently my appliances will soon be able to self-diagnose their faults and alert either me or the manufacturer’s customer service centre. And I’ll be able to set my fridge temperature via an app on my smartphone. Arrrgh.

Am I alone in being happy to give my fridge’s temperature an occasional tweak during its monthly clean, by turning a numbered dial next to the light? How often should I be adjusting its temperature – each night before bedtime?

So, please excuse the rant, but I feel quite strongly about this. Cars have already become too complicated, what with their sophisticated computerised “engine management systems” that befuddle the car’s owner and necessitate a pricey trip to the garage. Let’s not let our kitchen appliances join them.

Keep tech where it’s appropriate and genuinely useful, and stop trying to flog us additional features where we don’t need them. Although I’d quite like to be able to preheat the oven via my iPhone while I’m on my way home…

13 comments

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rosie

Al, I have to disagree. My ‘busy’ life is too ‘busy’ to remember what I have in my kitchen for my evening meal, which is often decided during the laborious lunch-time ‘what shall we have for dinner tonight dear?’ phone call.

I often have to send my boyfriend an email (after the dinner has been decided upon) to see if he can remember what we have in the fridge and cupboards – and those emails are annoying to us both. I often end up going to the supermarket on the way home ‘just in case’, only to find that when I get home, I already have everything I need anyway.

After-work life would be so much easier if I could remote into my fridge, freezer and kitchen cupboards.

Does this technology even tell you how many eggs are left in the box or when you’ve run out of peppers, rather than just when they expire?

Does it also add your favourite and missing items to an online shopping order (please…)?

The next flat I move to, I will make sure I have enough room for this fridge…

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Emily

I do see what you’re saying Rosie, but it sounds lik this fridge would require a fair bit of upkeep to keep it up-to-date with what’s in the fridge anyway – and surely writing down what you’ve run out of on a shopping list is easier than haveing to tell the fridge you’ve just used 150ml of your milk?

Al, I agree that I have far better things to do with my time than log every item as I put it away when I get home from the supermarket – usually like getting on and making the dinner. I’d probably starve to death by the time I’d finished cataloging my purchases. If it could somehow scan in my receipt, however, that might be a quick and easy option

I can kind of see the appeal of an intelligent fridge that I can check the contents of remotely, but this does not sound like it. And as for getting texts about my festering eggs? No thank you.

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Phil

How long before somebody hacks the fridge, changes all the use by dates and puts your shopping list on Wikileaks?

The Achilles’ Heel is having to scan all the contents (supposing it was bought loose and doesn’t have a barcode?) and input the use by dates. After a few weeks and the novelty has worn off nobody’s going to bother to do that. Life’s too short.

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rosie

You’re right, it would be time consuming scanning everything in, expiry dates and all. But what if the fridge was able to tell when you’re running out of milk, for example, by the weight of the container?

I still like this concept though – and if I could remote into my kitchen cupboards, let alone just my fridge, then that would be even better!

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Waylander101

Sounds good but I’m waiting for a Star Trek style replicator so I don’t need a fridge (or any other kitchen stuff)

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Nikki Whiteman

This is probably pretty useful for organised people who will appreciate information like “your eggs have gone off – throw them away.” But past experience with the old-fashioned equivalent of a nagging fridge (flatmates who complain about the smell of rancid milk) shows me that even with “handy reminders” I’m unlikely to get any better at shopping or clearing it out anyway.

I doubt I’m the target market, though, as I would be far too disorganised to input any information after I’ve been shopping, let alone plan shopping lists based on what I have in the house rather than just on what I want to eat while I’m in the supermarket. I can see why people would want one, but I think the appeal will be limited to those who were already quite good at planning their shopping anyway.

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irene

I really can’t see it ever catching on, but on the other hand the human race has been saying just that about every innovation since time began…

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olly b.

This must have a future: in the 1930s the Government agreed with experts that ‘television would only ever be a minority interest’ and would never challenge ‘wireless’.
Also, new ideas create jobs and wealth; it’s the latest ‘thing to have’; and the idea of self-diagnosis is a breakthrough for DIY geeks like me who’ll now know exactly what to mend or tweak.

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Phil

Or it could just be a gimmick.

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Alistair

In a similar vein, I would be interested to know if I had lost power to my fridge freezer during any power cuts.
I may be away for a week, and would not have a clue on my return whether I had had a power cut, or for how long.
Is there any plug in devices avaialble to do this for me?

Hi Alistair. There aren’t any specific plug-in devices that I know of which alert you if you’ve had a power cut. However a home energy monitor such as the AlertMe Home Energy system, which I reviewed last year, will email you if your power usage changes or if the monitor loses power.

Alternatively, use a cheap mains-powered alarm clock. When the power comes back on again after a power cut, the clock should start again from midnight. Assuming the power cut doesn’t last longer than 24 hours, you should be able to work out the duration of the power cut from the difference between the real time, and that shown on the clock when you return!

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richard

For me – this is a waste of time and my energy – I use Sainsburys On Line to buy the vast majority of my groceries (free delivery and no parking) weekly. In all honesty I do not really take any notice of “eat by dates” only what I see or smell. I do stack my food by “oldest first” to ensure food doesn’t get forgotten. As I work daily from home – a lack of power would not bother me at all. A closed stopped freezer will not allow the food to spoil in 24 hours. When I go on holiday I always empty my fridge before I go – relying on tinned or dried food for a day or two when I come back (though I have a freezer)..

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wavechange

Forget this complicated nonsense and focus on things that have obvious benefit, such as fitting all new fridges with an accurate thermometer and better insulation to decrease running costs.

Like Richard, I empty my fridge and switch it off when I go on holiday. It makes sense to save energy.

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