If you're amazed by your rice cooker, which uses fuzzy-logic technology to cook a perfect pot of rice (and plays a sweet jingle when it's finished), prepare for the new wave of kitchen appliance technology: Wi-Fi enabled, intelligent machines that blur the line between computer and cooking device.
Engineers, many with Silicon Valley backgrounds, are developing (and/or funding) smart appliances that are members of a network of connected, data-collecting objects known as the Internet of Things—and it's often for the purpose of ease of use and guaranteed results.
There's the Chime Brewing Machine—"the first connected device for chai"—and the Nomiku with Wi-Fi—a sous vide machine that allows you to control the appliance remotely, from anywhere—but those may be just the tip of the iceberg.
Why the change now? “There hasn’t been any real innovation in the kitchen since the 70s with the introduction of the microwave oven,” one of the co-founders of the June Intelligent Oven, described below, told Forbes.
If these appliances—and the millions of dollars of funding they've amassed—are any indication, smart kitchen appliances may be the way of the future. Here are three that are making headlines:
The pitch: "Leave chopping, cleaning, and other juicing hassles behind, and drink fresh raw juice on demand." With zero clean-up.
What it is: The first at-home, cold-press juice machine, it makes juice from disposable packs of pre-chopped produce (many have compared it to Keurig and Nespresso in this sense).
Price and appearance: It's $699 and sold only in California (for now). The New York Times describes the machine as a "white plastic slab roughly the size of a food processor"; to get juice "you insert a pouch [these cost between $4 and $10 and come in 5 flavors] that resembles an IV bag."
How smart technology is at play: The juice packs, TechCrunch reports, include a QR code, which the machine scans to check if the contents of the pack are past their expiration date or contaminated. The machine itself is Wi-Fi enabled, sending data to a profile in the smartphone app; Juicero uses this information to track data about how much juice a consumer is making and the recipes they like: "The company’s app will suggest different recipes to try, or really, pouches to buy, to round out a customer’s nutrition."
The story: Invented by Doug Evans, the raw-food evangelist behind the now-defunct Organic Avenue health food chain, it's designed to be a miniature version of the industrial presses used at the stores. Juicero raised $70 million in 2015, and Evans is raising more money—currently $28 million and counting.
What makes it different from a $3.50 bottle of juice from Costco?: "Not all juice is equal,” Evans told the Times. “How do you measure life force? How do you measure chi?”
What people are saying: "...the Juicero may soon be as ubiquitous as the Dyson vacuum or Nest thermostat. After sampling each of the flavors [...], I was buzzing with clear-headed exuberance for hours." (Eviana Hartman in Vogue)
The pitch: "The smart oven that makes home cooking easy," it "enables you to have healthy, tasty, chef-curated meals—in minutes, at home, with no prep, cooking, or cleanup."
What it is: An all-in-one broiler, steamer, oven, microwave, and toaster. Chefs have been using similar "combi ovens" like this forever, says Mashable, but this "is a shrunken version [...], with a few more bells and whistles. We're talking the Easy Bake Oven for #adulting." While you can program the Tovala to cook your food however you want, it works with a food delivery plan: Just scan the meal's barcode, and 10 to 30 minutes later it's ready to eat.
Price and appearance: It's expected to retail for $329 (though early Kickstarter supporters will be able to purchase one for $199). And although it looks like a microwave, it is not a microwave: "It’s a 26-pound robotic personal chef."
How it uses smart technology: The Tovala meals come coded with cooking instructions for those meals, and the machine is equipped with Wi-Fi connectivity so that it can pull new recipes as they're developed. The embedded sensors inside the machine detect levels of heat and humidity—adjustments are made constantly. You'll use an app on your phone to manually control the oven, order more meals, and upload your own recipes.
What others are saying: "Herb-stuffed chicken with a side of asparagus was a revelation: Juicy, delicious bird with great seasoning. Restaurant-quality good." (Wired)
The pitch: "It's a computer that cooks. And toasts, and bakes, and roasts, and broils."
What it is: An oven that's much smarter and more complex than the one you have at home. The June Intelligent Oven uses machine intelligence to recognize food and create a custom cook time and temperature.
Price and appearance: The final unit will cost $1495 for pre-order—you can reserve one with a $95 deposit—and $2995 at retail (it's expected to be available by the 2016 holiday season). It's 1 cubic foot, which means it fits nine pieces of toast at the same time (and is designed to do the daily cooking for a family of 3 to 4).
How it uses smart technology: The oven identifies food using an HD video camera, weighs it, and reads the internal temperature (using two temperature probes) in order to suggest a cooking program, then monitors the weight and temperature throughout the process. And you can spectate from your phone (watching your cookies bake is much better than watching water boil).
What people are saying: "OK, so I may love this thing a little bit. And even though I haven’t tested it out in my own kitchen yet, I think its technologies point the way to the future of cooking. But for June’s business to succeed, it needs to find an early-adopter market that I don’t quite get: June buyers must be wealthy and adventurous in the kitchen, yet plagued with just enough self-doubt that an automatically recognized Brussels sprout would be a godsend." (Wall Street Journal)
Okay, it does not rely on smart technology—but look how adorable it is!