We talk a lot about the appliances that go into the future kitchen — but what about the design of the space itself? As populations urbanize, millennials take over, and automation and delivery become more and more omnipresent, the actual space of the kitchen must also evolve to accommodate these new technologies.

Suleiman Alhadidi works on reimagining living spaces in the MIT Media Lab’s City Science Group project. Alhadidi will be at the Smart Kitchen Summit {SKS} next month speaking about how new housing types, automation, and generational shifts will affect the design of future kitchens. But we got curious about how our kitchens are going to look down the road (robots? foldable ovens?), so we went ahead and asked Alhadidi a few questions over email. Check out the Q&A below then grab your tickets to SKS now!

This interview has been very lightly edited for clarity. 

I’ve heard rumors you’re working on some sort of robotic kitchen concept. Tell us more about that.
In the City Science group, we strive to design the future of cities, buildings, and homes to provide more livable communities and to make life more enjoyable. As populations swell and space is at a premium, we need to make better use of space in all facets of our lives. The Piccolo Kitchen Project explores new modes of cooking using robotically enabled cabinets and appliances to minimize the footprint of the kitchen while maximizing the ability for users to cook large meals, socialize, and utilize the same space for work during non-meal times. Our team has reimagined the kitchen as a multipurpose-system that adapts to the user needs.

The kitchen project is part of the robotic-micro-unit project which aims to provide affordable urban spaces in tier-one cities such as New York and San Francisco. As living space becomes scarce, its cost is rising and unaffordable. Unaffordability is a major cause for the displacement of people and with them, their culture.

Recently, some cities have increased affordable housing units; however, there is a strong need for innovations in space management in the home that allow for smaller groups to accommodate residents’ needs. We are hoping that the application of the micro-unit robotic systems will have a positive impact in densely populated cities by reducing unit cost and allowing people to live where they work and enjoy their life.

Piccolo Kitchen aims to accommodate all the needs of an apartment resident while occupying as little space as possible. It is a modular unit that includes appliances, storage, counter space, and a sink in a compact area that can be optimized for different needs using its various robotic components. The unit needs to be portable, modular, and compatible with consumer kitchen appliances. Through a series of robotic arms, pulleys, and actuators, the kitchen will provide users with the ability to access the cabinets and appliances they need at that time while moving the ones they don’t need out of the way. The proposed kitchen design aims to go beyond being solely a cooking space and serve as a workstation as well.

How do you think the move towards automation will affect the way we interact with food?
Robotics and automation will be an increasingly important part of our lives. We hope that Piccolo Kitchen can prioritize the culture of the kitchen with a user-focused design. It is modular in nature, giving the users choices on their space, knowing that cooking is a personal experience with many cultural attributes. It aims to optimize the kitchen space and volume without compromising its functionality, especially in micro-units.

We are hoping that automation will make cooking more enjoyable and enrich the social experience in our homes; allowing the transfer of knowledge with their loved ones, allowing the development of personal expertise on how to cook healthier, and enabling everyone to prepare and interact with food no matter how limited their space might be.

I think that cooking and food preparation should be multigenerational; accessible by the young and old and also possible for people of all abilities. We are focused on small spaces with an aim not to compromise but maximize the cooking experience.

Are there any trends you see emerging in the food space which you think are particularly interesting?
New modes of technology are emerging in the way we produce and consume food; blockchain technology is allowing new modes of decentralized exchange of food and goods. This technology is changing the food production ecosystem. Food production is becoming closer to its demand in the same city; urban farms allow for district-level food production. This new ecosystem promotes different sustainable ways of sharing food while avoiding waste, as shown in several apps like iRecycle, My Waste, and OLIO. This makes food sharing easier in certain communities, copying what old cultures were used to do to share both cooked and uncooked food.

Millennials are attracted to healthier food. We see a surge in special-diet online stores that aim to have better food choices. These platforms provide more convenient ways to shop.

Kitchen appliances are now enabled by Internet of Things; allowing a better user-driven cooking experience that is customized for different cultures and cuisines. Wireless-charging and autonomous appliances will allow more flexibility in making both home and commercial kitchens and will change the way we order, store, cook, and consume food in our homes.

In the future, do you foresee communities growing and cooking food more locally or outsourcing it from further away? In short: How will our future living situations impact our relationship with food?
I am a believer in community-driven economies. I expect that communities and neighborhoods will be able to grow and consume their food with the advent of advanced technologies. In the City Science group, we work to enable communities and neighborhoods to be equitable and autonomous; you can grow your plants without soil using hydroponics, for example, and technologies like this will enable decentralized methods of growing your food locally. This will promote sustainable approaches and empower communities by enriching culture and local values.

We see urban dwellers in the future living in dense compact neighborhoods where places for work, live, and play are all located in close proximity. Such neighborhoods will be responsive to the unique needs and values to individuals through the application of disentangled systems and smart customization. Such a system (if developed properly) will allow for more productive, enjoyable, and sustainable lives.

Come watch Suleiman speak about new, innovative and efficient kitchen design at SKS next month! Get 25% off your tickets here.

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