Future house

Kitchen of the future: Interactive comfort

  • Article by: KAREN YOUSO , Star Tribune
  • Updated: March 23, 2007 - 10:57 AM

The kitchen of the future is actually a giant, interactive workhorse of a computer the heart of which is a gleaming glass wall that holds a refrigerator, microwave oven, conventional oven and dishwasher. It s all fully integrated and at your command.

The kitchen of the future pipes a friendly good morning.

It sports a field of rolling green hills on a smooth reflective wall as it instantly displays weather maps and the day s forecast for your convenience. Wonder about breakfast and it scans ingredients, popping up a menu of choices. Touch your preferences and recipes appear as if by magic.

The kitchen of the future is actually a giant, interactive workhorse of a computer the heart of which is a gleaming glass wall that holds a refrigerator, microwave oven, conventional oven and dishwasher. It s all fully integrated and at your command.

Ask and the cooktop glides out for service. (Later it ll slide back and automatically clean itself.) Call from work and find out if the kitchen has ingredients for tonight s impromptu dinner party, and leave a video message the equivalent of a sticky note to your spouse about the plans.

Sound like fiction? It s not.

Design engineers at GE have created such a kitchen using technology available today. Employing what they call predictive computing, the future kitchen anticipates needs, interacts with occupants and systems in the house and is connected to the Internet 24 hours a day. The only assumptions made about the future kitchen is that 25 years from now, people will still get hungry, be overly busy and want to cook. (To view a video clip of the kitchen, go to www.startribune.com/a2470.)

Looking forward, designers and engineers see technology overhauling two important rooms in the house: the kitchen and bathroom. But it is likely to happen in a world facing issues of global warming and diminishing resources. The results are clever and recycle some ideas from the past.

GE s kitchen uses materials and insulation that require less energy, and appliances that share energy. Oven heat warms the dishwasher or dishwasher heat warms the oven, for instance.

Kitchen lighting will be highly efficient organic light-emitting diodes (OLEDs). Far more flexible than incandescents or fluorescents, OLEDs can be used in colors, shapes and applications. They can be incorporated into a fabric ceiling and in the floor under cabinets to illuminate without glare. Lights automatically ramp up when you enter the room. Open a cupboard door, and the interior is instantly illuminated. No light switches are needed, so there is no chance they ll be left on.

Cabinetry and surfaces will be locally produced, possibly within 300 miles, to reduce the carbon costs of transportation, said John Carmody, director of the University of Minnesota s Center for Sustainable Building Research. To protect resources, they are likely to come from managed forests and recycled materials such as glass, plastic and paper.

Future kitchens will reflect the preciousness of water. The adjustable-height sink has two taps: one for pure drinking and cooking water that comes metered into the home, the other for almost-clean water, rainwater or filtered gray water used for washing and cleaning. Of course, the taps turn on and off automatically. Dishwasher design will continue the trend of using less water for cleaning.

Bathrooms: Larger and made for exercise, comfort

The bathroom of the future will be large because it s a room for health, not just for cleaning and elimination. It s where you ll exercise, relax and restore, experts say. Mirrors are screens on which to view movies, news, weather, exercise videos, even do computer searches. You can call and interact with health providers or others.

Lighting, music and ambience is at your whim, including the ceiling s projection of starry, stormy or bright blue summer skies. Comfort comes from heated floors embedded with highly effective, yet low-cost, radiant heat supplied by a geothermal heat pump. The bars that warm towels are heated in the same way.

And it s a water-saving bathroom. The showers with air-injected water droplets let you experience the feel of abundant water at a fraction of the amount. You may soak in a deep tub, but it is likely to be filled with sanitized rainwater, not purified drinking water.

The bathroom s self-cleaning surface coatings save water as well as your time.

The most unusual feature might be the high-tech toilet, which looks like a conventional toilet but operates much differently. It s a dry toilet, meaning it needs little or no water to clear waste due to its special nonstick surface. It can do a urinalysis and transmit the results to doctors or insurance companies for better health or better surveillance.

Sources: Discoverychannel.com/2057 and future.org/au.

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