Fridges are sexy
Ok, so maybe they weren’t ever sexy in the first place, but if you were at IFA this past week, you would have seen a host of fridges with interactive touchscreens, image recognition software, internal cams and even the ability to move around the home and deliver a frosty one.
If this year’s CES and IFA are any indications, the fridge is fast becoming the focal point for many appliance makers, who are jumping at the opportunity to remake their product with advanced hardware and software that transform their fridges into the smart kitchen -- and smart home -- hubs.
Let’s take a quick look at some of the fridges that were on display at IFA:
Haier Link Cook Series
Haier showed off their Link Cook series of smart refrigerators, a new line of products that looks similar in feature set to the Samsung Family Hub refrigerator.
The Link Cook series of fridges is part of a broader lineup from Haier. According to Ashlee Clark Thompson at CNET, the Link Cook is part of “Haier’s U+ Smart Home Platform, which connects the Link Cook Series to a Haier oven and range hood. According to Haier, you’ll be able to select a recipe on the refrigerator, automatically send the heating instructions to the oven and view the recipe on a small screen on the range hood.”
At this point, Haier is vague on timing and pricing. It will be interesting to see is if Haier’s new fridge eventually enters the US market under the GE brand.
Samsung’s Family Hub
Samsung tends to make its biggest news at CES, but it had a nice update on some new features and partner integrations for its flagship smart fridge at IFA.
While the company has had voice commands (both Alexa and its voice assistant, Bixby), they announced expanded voice command features at IFA. From the press release: “Family Hub’s voice capabilities provide a new way to interact with the refrigerator. Users can ask for the time and weather updates, search the internet, read news articles, play music and radio, add items to their shopping list, and even view inside of the refrigerator without opening the door.”
It also became more evident that Samsung sees their Family Hub as the central command center for the smart home. They teased this at CES and at the Smart Kitchen event at Samsung’s NYC location in June, but now users can use the Samsung Connect smart home features from the fridge. Samsung Connect, based on the SmartThings platform (which Samsung acquired a few years ago), is now built into the fridge.
Panasonic’s Mobile Fridge
Panasonic turned in one of the most intriguing showings of IFA as far as future kitchen tech is concerned, showing off an AI-powered kitchen assistant and a combo microwave-steam oven, but the show stealer was their moveable fridge named “Cool.” Cool utilizes similar technology employed by any number of robot vacuums in that it has internal sensors that measure the distance between itself and obstacles in its way like, say, a kitchen island, and continuously develops a map and improves its understanding of the overall home layout as moves around.
Cool, which is about the size of a dormitory fridge, does not currently have a price or ship date.
The smart fridge showing at IFA wasn’t all touch screens and robot fridges. Smarter, the smart kitchen appliance startup from the UK founded by Dragon Den wunderkind Christian Lane and his wife Isabella, showed off production models of the smart fridge cam is debuted last year at IFA and also had a major partner announcement. The company announced that their FridgeCam smart fridge camera would ship with every smart refrigerator from German industrial conglomerate Liebherr, the biggest privately held manufacturer of refrigerators in the EU (and also the inventor of the tower crane). The deal is a good one for Smarter. While the announcement did not break out what percentage of total volume from the German manufacturer is smart, the company ships an estimated 2 million fridges per year.
The Rise of the Smart Fridge
In many ways, this focus on the fridge by big appliance manufacturer makes sense. In many homes, the fridge is the central focal point of the kitchen, where pictures, school assignments, and shopping lists go. Why not digitize that?
The fridge is also where the bulk of our fresh food is stored, all of which have a limited lifespan. Smarter fridges could help us manage this inventory and make sure we waste less (and keep us from buying redundant food that will inevitably be wasted).
Lastly, no platform really dominates the kitchen screen, but with the rise of guided cooking, the growing popularity of food and cooking content, and more and smarter appliances to manage, the front of the fridge makes sense for that big attractive touchscreen.
And of course, there are those of us there are who have long dreamed of a day when a robot assistant could bring us a beer. Just who could have predicted that robot would also be a fridge?