For better or worse, the dream of the smart home is slowly but surely becoming a reality.
Consumers are increasingly amazed by and gravitating toward wireless contraptions promised to make everyday chores and tasks easier, from connected washing machines and robotic vacuums to an almost-unbelievable collection of Wi-Fi enabled grocery refill buttons by Amazon Prime.
But within the next decade, the entire kitchen will be digitized and connected, according to recent forecast from home retailer behemoth Ikea.
Being what is often referred to as the heart of the home, such a sweeping revamp of the kitchen during a relatively short time span would undoubtedly make a profound impact on the way we live our lives everywhere.
But Ikea is already prepared, perhaps hoping to simultaneously calm and excite consumers worldwide with its Concept Kitchen, which the Swedish corporation unveiled earlier this year.
For a closer peek at the inspiration and construction of the futuristic floor plan, read through our Q&A below with IKEA Kitchen and Dining Range Manager, Gerry Dufresne.
ZDNet: What are the biggest differences between kitchens today and those we can expect in 2025? How does technology (and which types) play into this?
Dufresne: Of all the rooms in our homes the kitchen is the center of energy, activity, comfort, and creativity-the beating heart of any dwelling.
In the coming decade as our environments and habits change, the kitchen as we know it will evolve drastically.
More people will move into cities, and our living spaces will become smaller. Natural resources will become more scarce, food more expensive, and waste an increasingly urgent issue. Near-instant grocery delivery will alter how we shop for and store food, and technology will be embedded in every part of our homes.
ZDNet: Are the designs of the Concept Kitchen based more on data-driven predictions and trends, or rather a guide to where we should be going?
"In the coming decade as our environments and habits change, the kitchen as we know it will evolve drastically."
Dufresne: The Concept Kitchen is a stepping stone on IKEA's longer journey to understand people's emerging needs, and inspire and inform kitchen design in the coming years.
IKEA asked IDEO -- a global design firm that takes a human-centered, design-based approach to helping organizations in the public and private sectors innovate -- and a group of 50 students from IKEA collaborated with IDEO and design students School of Industrial Design at the Ingvar Kamprad Design Centre at Lund University, and the Industrial Design department at Eindhoven University of Technology to explore the social, technological, and demographic forces that will impact how we behave around food in 2025.
The students spent months researching people's attitudes and ideas about cooking and eating, and IDEO designers guided them as they built concept kitchen products.
ZDNet: How does the Concept Kitchen reflect the Internet of Things movement? What types of connected devices can we expect to go mainstream, and what pain points will they solve?
Dufresne: Analyzing trends and synthesizing the student's research, we defined a series of twelve assumptions about the world we'll live in in 2025.
One of those is that computers (integrated seamless technology) will be everywhere. Even simple devices will be equipped with sensors, CPUs and transmitting devices, allowing for communication with the user, but also with each other, creating self-regulating systems.
"Screens may be everywhere, and digital embedded into every part of our lives, but how can we make more meaningful use of technology in the kitchen, putting people at the center of it?"
We explored ways how we might ensure that a computerized kitchen doesn't lose its humanity - for example:
- The Modern Pantry encourages us to have a closer relationship with what we eat by storing food in transparent individual containers on open shelves rather than hiding it at the back of a fridge. The design makes it easy to be inspired by what's on-hand rather than going out to buy more, and it also saves energy: Induction-cooling technology embedded into the shelves responds to RFID stickers on the food's packaging in order to keep the containers at just the right temperature.
- The Table For Living is designed to inspire people to be more creative with food and throw away less. At a loss for what to do with that leftover broccoli? Just place it on the table, and a camera recognizes what it is and projects recipes, cooking instructions, and a timer directly onto the surface. Set the timer for the amount of time you can spend preparing the meal, and the table suggests recipes that can be completed in the window you have available. The table is a nifty solution for a smaller urban dwelling because it's multi-modal: Hidden induction coils only heat the inside of pans, rather than the surface, so it's adjustable for working, cooking, or eating.
- The Mindful Water System pushes us to be more conscious of our water consumption with a basin that pivots left and right. It must be tipped to one side to drain toxic, or "black" water, and the other for safe "grey" water, which can be filtered and used in a dishwasher or as nourishment for the cooking herbs that grow above the sink.
ZDNet: Does the revolution of the kitchen reflect the changes in the wider food industry right now? (i.e. new food delivery or cooking-focused startups, cooking more at home in reflection of "farm to table" mentality, etc.)
Dufresne: Synthesizing the insight from 27 student projects, we identified six themes we believe are crucial to understanding how we'll behave around food in ten years:
- The Everywhere Kitchen: With people living nomadic lives, in smaller homes, we saw lots of ideas for a flexible, modular kitchen that could take on many roles - cooking, socializing, working.
- The Democratic Kitchen: As people become more creative and empowered to make things that are individual to them, could IKEA create frames that allow people to design their own kitchen, for new uses that couldn't have been imagined?
- The Collaboration Kitchen: With smaller spaces, and a shift from owning things to sharing them, how could IKEA bring together together to cook together, socially?
- The Human Technology Kitchen: Screens may be everywhere, and digital embedded into every part of our lives, but how can we make more meaningful use of technology in the kitchen, putting people at the center of it? Helping you with new recipes, cooking advice, or eating more healthier, say.
- The Mindful Kitchen: As people care more about sustainability, how can IKEA design kitchen furniture and use technology to make people more conscious about their impact on the world, the resources they're using, and feel closer to where their food comes from?
- Enlightened Food Storage: Food waste is a big problem, especially as it may become more expensive in future. How could we keep food front of mind, store it more efficiently, and encourage people to use the food they have?
ZDNet: How will this tech-enhanced and driven kitchens change how eat, cook and shop for food?
Dufresne: Crucial to the success of the project was preserving the tactile creative pleasure of the kitchen. Technology could easily make the space feel robotic and sterile, but this project was guided by the need to keep tech in the background.
The Concept Kitchen 2025 doesn't automate away personal choices, but rather facilitates mindfulness with embedded cues throughout the kitchen that subtly guide people toward being conscious of their actions and making informed decisions.
Ikea's Concept Kitchen is currently open as a pop-up exhibition at the Ikea Temporary gallery in Milan, Italy.
Images via Ikea