In this age of Alexa, self-driving cars, and Google home, it’s clear that smart products are here to stay. But what’s coming down the pike may surprise you. Imagine ten years from now when your intelligent “VitAImix” not only guides your grocery purchases and recipes, but can influence the prices of certain ingredients for everyone!

© 2017 Institute for the Future, CC BY-NC-SA 4.0 International.
‘VitAImix’ artifact of the future © 2017 Institute for the Future, CC BY-NC-SA 4.0 International

Whether you make appliances, consumer goods, or food products, what the Institute for the Future (IFTF) calls the ‘Internet of Actions’ is a game-changer.  Rebecca Chesney, Research Director, IFTF, explains how in Three Strategies for Designing Kitchens of the Future. Though her article focuses on the kitchen, the trends in connectivity, technology, consumer behavior, and values could easily apply to any product category. The implications are far-reaching, both in terms of product innovation and societal impact.

She shares:

“the building blocks of this artifact from the future created by IFTF are already emerging today. For instance, IBM and Samsung developed Autonomous Decentralized Peer-to-Peer Telemetry (ADEPT), a proof of concept protocol that allows appliances such as washing machines, televisions, and refrigerators to purchase their own supplies such as detergent, negotiate with each other for energy use, and order their own maintenance. ADEPT leverages self-executing smart contracts based on blockchain technology to provide a secure, low-cost way for these devices to interact. People are already outsourcing their interactions with customer service representatives to bots, such as startup Trim’s bot that chats with cable television provider Comcast to negotiate prices. Soon these bots could be embedded directly in televisions and other appliances, turning machines into a consumer class in their own right.

In addition to connecting devices in a home to each other, efforts are also underway to connect home kitchens to the larger food ecosystem. Nestlè, Kroger, Unilever, and other global food companies are partnering with IBM in a consortium to leverage blockchain technology for traceability and transparency across the food supply web. Creating a data infrastructure from farm and factory to the store will eventually enable a suite of kitchen devices to consider country of origin, nutrition content, and price when deciding what recipes to download and foods to purchase. Finally, as indicated by Amazon’s acquisition of Whole Foods, personal preferences and shopping history will be added to this complex food database, and kitchens in homes will be able to tap into a vast logistics and distribution network.”

In designing the future of kitchens specifically, she recommends:

Strategy 1: Question autonomy.

Today’s smart kitchen offerings overwhelmingly focus on efficiency, saving time, and making cooking easy, often automating processes to the full extent possible.  However, automation can overlook  other customer needs, such as taste and sensory experience. Instead she suggests  using “adaptive automation design,”  the design of systems with varying levels of automation that people can set themselves based on their own values.

Strategy 2: Consider a wide set of values.

“Eaters bring diverse values to the table beyond convenience and taste, from remaking their bodies and communities to aligning with the environment…Cooking and eating are often about discovery, an attribute that may be lost in kitchens designed to optimize efficiency. For many of us, kitchens are places to revisit and create memories, perhaps by cooking through our grandmother’s recipes or by hosting friends for a Thanksgiving feast. To pursue this strategy, think about the most memorable meal of your childhood, a recent time you learned something in the kitchen, or a time when you were comforted by a food. Ask your friends, family, and target customers the same set of questions and develop a set of values people pursue in the kitchen, from experimentation to community and inclusivity.”

Strategy 3: Design using verbs.

“As machine intelligence becomes a utility, it won’t be enough to design ‘smart’ or ‘intelligent’ kitchen devices.  In the Internet of Actions, we’ll focus more on what these technologies do rather than on what they are. If you’re building kitchen appliances or designing a food product or service, design using verbs to imagine the new roles technology might play. Of course, a kitchen might be designed to shop or cook. Combining this strategy with the first two can help to expand the scope of your ideas and illuminate new value propositions. For instance, kitchens might be designed to teach cooking skills and healthy behaviors to help people re-engage more deeply with food, rather than remove them from the process.”

Augmented reality might tell a story, robotic arms might be used to design kitchens that enable. The Liftware Steady handle for spoons, forks, and knives uses a variety of sensors, stabilizers, and motors to counteract tremors so people with limited mobility can eat without spilling their food. How might other technologies currently being harnessed to shop or chop be leveraged for other roles in the kitchen? These are important value-add differentiators.

She concludes “even as these technologies empower us, they will create new questions about how to interact, negotiate, and navigate new possibilities with each other. The challenge is for us to decide how much we automate or engage with our food, what values we consider and design for, and the roles these technologies will play in our kitchens and in our lives.”

The Internet of Actions and other IFTF insights will be shared by Rebecca’s associate, Quinault Childs,  at the Innovation & Growth Leadership Summit on February 27, 2018 in Phoenix, AZ.