Celebrity chef Tyler Florence demoes the Innit-Google Assistant integration at CES.

Every year upon returning from my annual pilgrimage to Las Vegas, someone always asks me, “what was the big thing at CES this year?”

And this year, just like every year, I struggle to answer the question.

The reason? Because there’s never just one big thing. There are usually many big things.

This is in part because it’s such a massive show, one that’s gotten bigger both in scope and attendance over the years, and it’s hard to easily summarize the trends from nearly every corner of tech. Whether your thing is AI, IoT, VR/AR, cryptocurrencies, robotics, CES had something to make you happy.

Because of the overwhelming amount of news and stuff to see, it’s helpful to go to CES with a focus. For me, this year (and really, the last couple years) that focus was kitchen and food tech.  And because there’s no concentrated area at CES for food or kitchen tech (get with the program, CTA), that means I am usually scanning a bunch of different spaces (smart home, fitness, startups) to find interesting new companies or news.

This post is a wrapup of some of the important trends I saw. If I missed anything big (and I’m sure I did), email me, and I’ll update the post.

Smart Kitchen Platforms Emerge

This year was a coming out for connected kitchen platforms at CES. Whether it was Whirlpool’s big debut of Yummly 2.0 (which Brett Dibkey described to me as “the glue” tying together Whirlpool’s kitchen of the future), or offerings powered by Innit, SideChef or Drop, there’s no doubt we saw the intelligent, conscious kitchen undeniably emerge as a major focus for large appliance makers.

What do I mean? Basically, it’s moving beyond simple connectivity and apps to platforms that connect the cooking, storage, commerce, planning and every other aspect of the kitchen into a holistic system. A kitchen that is aware of the food inside the fridge, one where appliances coordinate to each other to help organize the evening or week’s meal, one in which a variety of intelligent sensors and interfaces make your life easier; it was all there. This is, obviously, a big focus for us here at the Spoon, so expect more on this topic later.

Voice Interfaces Everywhere

Speaking of interfaces, we’re on the third year of “Alexa sure seems like it’s everywhere” at CES, but the first year of “Google finally seems to be taking this seriously”. It was just over a year ago that Google finally introduced its development kits for actions for Google Assistant (its answer to Alexa Skills), and twelve months later we finally see the fruits of the company’s labor. We also saw massive investment in CES as Hey Google was plastered all over Vegas, and they had a particular focus on the kitchen with on-site demos of the kitchen with partners like Innit.

Digital Sensing

Part of the intelligent, conscious kitchen is one that understands the food that is in the fridge and on the plate. Some companies were showing off food image recognition tech, infrared spectrometry, digital noses and water sensors.  Companies like Aryballe showed off their high-end professional sensor but also indicated they were working with appliance makers to build the technology into appliances. After-market players like Smarter were demoing their products to companies like Whirlpool. Expect the concept of a sensing kitchen to become more prevalent this year.

Food Inventory Management

Food waste is a big issue everywhere, and there were companies at CES showing off solutions to help us all better track what food we buy.  Startup Ovie, which I would describe as “Tile for food” was showing off its food tracking/management system, while others like Whirlpool and Samsung were talking about how their fridges can help to manage food inventory.

Water Intelligence

Given that it’s one of the world’s most precious resources, it’s always been a bit of a mystery to me why there hasn’t been more attention paid to using IoT and smart technology to manage our water better.  Mystery solved because now it seems the tech world is paying attention. Belkin finally had a coming out party for its long-gestating Phyn water management system while others like Flo had their home water management system on display. Smaller efforts like that of Lishtot, which help us detect whether water is drinkable, were also on display.

Wireless Power

One of the coolest things about the Smart Kitchen Summit last year was the Wireless Power Consortium had its first public demo of its cordless kitchen technology, which features wireless power for small countertop appliances.  I got an early demo at the WPC booth this year as they showed off wireless power for small appliances from Philips and Haier.

I also saw a cool demo using infrared wireless power form Wi-Charge. The concept here is to put an infrared transmitter in the ceiling (they put it in a light installation in the demo) and then transmit power using infrared to various devices. The Wi-Charge folks said their patented tech is currently only targeted at small portable devices, but I’m intrigued with the possibilities for the kitchen as a potential future opportunity.

Specialized Living

I’ve been writing about the massive opportunity for smart home and kitchen innovation for the aging in place market for the past couple years, so I was happy to see a number of companies focusing on this important area.  Much of the focus was on safety, which obviously applies to kitchen/cooking scenarios, but I can also see how smart assistants, robotics and augmented reality could be applied in living scenarios to help folks with limitations due to age.

Robot Invasion

Robots and process automation were everywhere at CES, ranging from cute social robots like LG’s Cloi to delivery robots to the laundry folding robots. Some, like LG, saw the robot as a natural pairing with the kitchen, while others saw robots as more general purpose assistants for the home.  And while we didn’t see the robot chef at CES this year, I expect we’ll see that probably in the near future.

Humanless Retail

AI-driven point of sale devices and “humanless” markets were big at CES. AIPoly won best of show for the second year in a row, while a Bodega-on-wheels startup Robomart had a huge crowd at its booth for much of the show. More modest efforts like the Qvie were on offer to give Airbnb hosts a way to become even more like micro-hotel operators.

New Cooking Boxes Appliances

One of my predictions for the year was a new generation of cooking boxes. I use the term box because they’re not always ovens (though they can be), but often are like the NXP RF-powered smart defroster. We also saw Hestan on the other side of the country (at KBIS) talk about using precision cooking coupled with gas, a throwback to their Meld days.  There were also lots of folks I met with still operating in stealth that plan to debut their next-gen cooking appliances this year, so stay tuned.

Home As Food Factory

All of a sudden, everyone seems to be interested in home-grow systems, whether it’s the backyard IoT grow box from Grow to the Opcom’s grow walls, there was lots of interesting new home grow systems to see at CES. And while I didn’t see anything like food reactors or much in the way of 3D food printers, I expect CES 2019 to rectify that situation.

Smart Booze

Smart beer appliances, wine serving/preservation devices, and IoT connected wine shelves were plentiful this year. CES also gave many the first peek at the home distilling system from PicoBrew, the PicoStill.

We’ll be watching all these trends this year, so if you want to keep up, make sure to subscribe to our newsletter. Also, you can hear about many of these trends at Smart Kitchen Summit Europe, which is in Dublin on June 12th.

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