High-Tech Avoids the Mess in Voice-Activated Future Kitchen

A core group of companies banded together in the Magic Kitchen Projectwill debut computer-embedded kitchen appliances Thursday at theConsumer Electronics Show as a forerunner of technology consumers maybe able to purchase by year’s end.

The so-called Magic Kitchen displays images on surfaces through mounted projectors.

The so-called Magic Kitchen displays images on surfaces through mounted projectors.
(click image to enlarge)

The Magic Kitchen display is the result of four years ofcollaborative research by Whirlpool, Texas Instruments,Verizon, Tyco Electronics, Sensory and several other members of Continental Automated Buildings Association’s (CABA) Connected Home Research Council. Thegroup, formerly known as the “Internet Home Alliance,” developed thefirst phase of the project.

The Magic Kitchen display showcases several concepts, including clutter-free technologies that allow users tocontrol content using voice and gesture commands.

“The kitchen is the nerve center of the entire house. Home buildersneed to wire the kitchen so data flows seamlessly. The issue is thatthe kitchen countertop is unrealistic for a PC,” Debasish (Ron) Nag,director of business development at Texas Instruments, toldTechNewsWorld.

Sensitive Choices

Traditional computing solutions accepted elsewhere in thehouse are not so cooking-friendly in the kitchen, according to research the group conducted.

“We found that consumers are not happy with having their laptops on thecounter top. It’s too risky that the laptop will fall or liquid willspill on the keys. So the ability to project displays onto flatsurfaces is a better solution,” Carol Priefert, senior manager ofglobal consumer insights and technology for the global productorganization at Whirlpool, told TechNewsWorld.

What people do in their kitchens and on their couches isdifferent, she said, and each room has its own computing environment.

For example, laptops in the living room are used for work orsupplementing the entertainment system; however, they’re awkward and less convenient for kitchen-based chores. The idea is to provide what consumers say they want in their kitchensthat is not now available, said Priefert.

New Kitchen Design

Kitchens have more than one common screen area, just as they have morethan one work zone. Work zones gravitate around the center island, thestove area and the refrigerator, she said.

Those zones are least user-friendly when it comes to setting upcomputing displays with traditional hardware. How can kitchenappliance makers use these existing surfaces? The solution is to usethe counter top to receive images from a projector, Nag said.

The kinds of information fed to the projector pattern what familymembers already have in the kitchen from old-fashioned methods.Instead, they will have LED lights under the cabinets and from theceiling beaming down.

“The concept involves people using computers instead of recipe books,index cards and Post-It notes that litter refrigerator doors,”said Nag.

No Standards

The features embedded into the first phase of the Magic Kitchen willlay a foundation for the overall concept of the connected home.

Past Connected Home Research Council pilots include Laundry Time,which tested the laundry room of the future; and Mealtime, whichtested a variety of high-tech, meal-preparation technologies. However, thekitchen appliances could potentially serve as a proving ground.

The display at CES makes it clear that the Magic Kitchen is futuristic concept, but one that’s nonetheless feasible. What makes this particular look into thekitchen of the future different from others is that all thefunctionality in the kitchen is within reach. Every concept in thekitchen is based on affordable technologies that exist currently inlabs around the world but haven’t yet been widely commercialized,noted Nag.

“It’s not about setting standards. The vendors are pushing the conceptof the connected home today. No industry standards yet exist,” saidPriefert.

What to Expect

Texas Instruments (TI) embedded mini computers that output to digitallight projectors under cabinets, on appliance doors and on counter tops. Aceiling-mounted product contains an array of small projectors, LEDheating lamps and an Internet connection. The device is a rectangularbox that closely resembles a Black and Decker appliance affixed undera cabinet or a range hood, Nag explained.

The Magic Kitchen concept displays different sets of information depending on the time of day.

The Magic Kitchen concept displays different sets of information depending on the time of day.
(click image to enlarge)

Consumers can configure the system to display information according totheir needs. These displays can be directed onto cooking surfaces,tables or counter tops.

“But keyboards and mice are not natural interfaces. People use handgestures and voice. So our challenge was, could TI work with Whirlpooland others to do this?” Nag said.

As far as the Magic Kitchen assembled for this week’s CES 2010 show,the answer is yes. A number of kitchen appliances offer working proofthat the concept is possible.

Cool Stuff

One cool feature the kitchen touts is the ability for users to place a mobile device such as a cellphone on the counter in a bowl-shaped receptacle that functions as aconnection zone. A hidden kitchen computer reads the user’s individualfood preferences and menu restrictions.

Other way-out stuff lets consumers use hands-free appliance controlsto juggle multiple tasks in the kitchen. For example, someone standingnear the sink could use the Wii-like sensor bar to control the burnerheight of an about-to-boil-over pot. Another task could involveanswering the phone while working on food preparation in the kitchen without having to scramble to wash and dry your hands.

The images consumers choose to project onto surfaces could be anything from table-settings to informational labels for winetasting parties to step-by-step instructions for homework or crafts.A counter-top device provides comprehensive product information forany bar-coded product, minimizing the risk of contamination orillness.

More to Come

After this first phase, the participating companies will conduct focusgroups to learn more about what consumers think about the concept.Based on the results of the focus groups, the CABA Connected HomeResearch Council will explore conducting a multi-month, real-worldtest of the concept in three to five homes.

“Our hope with The Magic Kitchen is to inspire developers worldwide tocommercialize these available technologies and bring them to market.This collaborative research shows that demand for these kitchenapplications is strong and growing,” said Todd Mozer, CEO of Sensory.

Subsequent phases will include a variety of cloud computingapplications, advanced speech recognition grammars, 3-D imaging andgesturing technology. A myriad of front projection devices and sensorswould enable the kitchen computer to recognize individual familymembers when they walk into the kitchen.

Meet George Jetson

This would allow family members to access their personal content, suchas calendar entries, news and email, simply by entering the kitchen.For example, the system could greet a family member with: “Goodmorning. Your coffee is ready, and you have a dentist appointment at 9A.M. Would you like cream and sugar with your coffee?”

This future vision will be affordable for mainstream consumers in athree-step pricing process, according to Nag. It normally takes whitegoods manufacturers 18 to 24 months to develop new product lines.

“We can do it in 12 to 16 months, depending on the sense of urgency,” he added.

The marketing goal is to offer the technology at an acceptable pricepoint. The first generation units will probably sell for $499. Thatprice will drop to $299 and eventually drop to the consumer sweet spotof $199, Nag predicted.

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