Bringing Internet Fridges out from the cold

Ever since supermarkets introduced shopping online there has been the promise of a fridge capable of automatically restocking itself. Why is it then that over a decade since LG introduced the first internet fridge we haven’t got much further, and how can Natural Language Interaction (NLI) technology solve the problem?

Whilst some companies have already introduced internet connected fridges, ovens and washing machines, complete with smartphone app, their appeal has been limited, not least because of the ergonomics involved in controlling them. Arriving at the supermarket and being able to instantly know what’s in the fridge and what’s about to go out of date would be a great bonus to many people. Now, imagine loading the fridge and manually entering in that information – not so great.

One suggestion to overcome this issue is to use RFID or barcodes, but this is only really suitable for packaged foods. Loose fresh fruit and vegetables would still need to be added manually and indeed the system wouldn’t work for produce grown at home or bought from the local market or farm shop.

Recognizing the impact that voice is having on other consumer devices, some fridge manufacturers have been quick to add in the capability. However, it is little more than voice recognition used to search for “cheese” for instance. The amount, expiry date, etc. still has to be entered in manually. With no underlying intelligence in the system, the internet fridge today is still as much as the gimmick it was twelve years ago.

And that’s exactly why manufacturers today are looking at including an NLI interface that will not only enable consumers just to shout out what they are placing in the fridge, but what’s more, if they forget to give the expiry date, the fridge can talk back and remind them. The fridge can learn the user’s terminology too. Although the fridge will understand a large number of variables for produce such as salad onions and spring onions, it will also be able to be taught any idiosyncrasies used by a consumer.

NLI can also help overcome one of the other key issues that has held back smart fridges’ success by enabling connection to third party applications. The concept of a fridge that orders food from the supermarket has been around for some time, but the reality is with no standard “shopping” API, it’s been too difficult to implement in a cost effective and user friendly manner. The technology behind NLI now makes it no more difficult to integrate with a supermarket website, than it is to integrate with entertainment sites such as Spotify or IMDB.

In fact why just stop at the fridge. Why not use the same type of technology on store cupboards too?

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