At about five years old, I remember standing in my grandmother’s kitchen in Gainesville, Florida, and her telling me to put the juice in the ice box. “Ice box?” I thought. “What on earth is that?”
The ice box—quite literally a box or cabinet with a block of ice to keep fold cold—was a part of my grandmother’s childhood. It was replaced somewhere between the 1930s and the 1960s with a marvel of modern day technology: the refrigerator. That electrical-powered, insulated kitchen appliance had perhaps the greatest impact on our society of all the technological advancements in the kitchen put together. Suddenly, women didn’t have to shop for and cook food every day. They could stock up on and store food, and their families could eat something that was previously unheard of—safe leftovers.
Today, refrigerators have come a long way from the humble ice box. With through-the-door ice and water dispensers, high-efficiency lighting, speed chilling, multiple door and drawer options, adjustable humidity and even a hot water dispenser, Grandma wouldn’t recognize her ice box in my LG French door refrigerator.
But what will the ice boxes of tomorrow look like? As technology becomes more and more integrated into our lives and not just our appliances, the whole process of eating—from shopping to storage to cooking—is being transformed. The newest refrigerators have computers built into the doors and cameras checking out your appetizers. What are the benefits to all this technology? How are we transforming the way we store our food for the better? Here’s a look at some of the most recent innovations in refrigeration tech.
Samsung Family Hub
This futuristic refrigerator debuted earlier this year, promising to integrate the smartphone/tablet lifestyle with your kitchen experience. It boasts built-in cameras for managing your food (no more wondering how much milk is left when you’re standing at the grocery store), plus direct ordering from the Wi-Fi-enabled, integrated LCD touchscreen display, which you can also use to pull up calendars, notes, photos, play music and even watch TV. (Yes, this fridge has speakers!)
One of the fridge’s four compartments can be used as either a refrigerator or a freezer. Turn it to the freezer setting in the winter when you’re cooking up stews and lasagnas in bulk, then switch it back to a fridge in the summer when you have a surplus of fresh produce to keep happy.
Whirlpool’s Care Sync Smart French Door Refrigerator
While not as flashy as the Samsung, the Whirlpool has some really cool features, including “Party Mode,” which preps for guests by activating Fast Ice and Fast Cool settings to cool down drinks quickly and speed up ice production. It also helps keep the fridge cool when it’s being opened and closed more frequently.
This fridge also boasts a completely redesigned interior space, which Whirlpool calls a “smart pantry.” Modular shelves can be slid or flipped out of the way to make room for bottles or tall items. There’s a platter pocket for large trays or a pizza box, as well as snack pockets that occupy previously unusable wall space and are ideal for storing easy-to-access snacks.
One ingenious idea is “stadium seating” in the door shelving, so the condiments at the back peek over those at the front. Connected smart features include smartphone alerts of a power or Wi-Fi outage, displaying fault codes and helping to schedule service appointments, reminders to change water filters and a neat integration with the Nest Learning Thermostat. The fridge syncs with Nest via Nest Rush Hour Rewards to run high-energy features like defrost cycles only during off-peak hours.
While these new fridges are certainly super cool, we are just beginning to see the potential that a “connected” fridge can bring to our kitchens. In the not-too-distant future, the built-in camera in your fridge will be able to identify what you have on hand and design a meal based on those ingredients.
With the advent of the Internet of Things, your smart fridge could communicate to your connected oven to start preheating in preparation for a meal. The oven would continue to cook until it determined, through internal sensors, that the dish has reached the perfect temperature. Your smart kitchen could also communicate with other smart devices in your home to do things such as turn on the lights in the kitchen when the oven starts to preheat and flash when dinner is ready. It could also tell your connected thermostat to turn down the heat (or increase the A/C) while the oven is on, helping keep you comfortable while you cook.
If you’re still waiting to upgrade to the latest fridge and freezer technology, check out this article from American Home Shield on ingenious ways to use ice cube trays in the meantime. The future of food storage is certainly looking smart!
Author bio: Jennifer Tuohy is home technology geek who writes on advances in appliances and other devices for The Home Depot. Jennifer has a particular interest in supporting green home concepts. If you want to research refrigerators, including models reviewed by Jennifer, you can visit homedepot.com.