By Jordan Kong (@ImNotJK) and Star Simpson (@starsandrobots)

We are collectively obsessed with food these days. Since the launch of the Food Network in 1993, TV shows such as Iron Chef and Anthony Bourdain’s No Reservation have become immensely popular. Modernist Cuisine, a 52-pound masterpiece published in 2011, was deemed “the cookbook to end all cookbooks” and the term “foodie” entered the mainstream lexicon. We spend hours staring into the kitchens of others, and at HD renderings of exquisite meals. But, while Americans have become more familiar with the newest celebrity chefs and the hottest food trends (e.g. Cronuts! Liquid nitrogen ice cream!), we are also collectively spending less and less time in our own kitchens.

Central Heating, Central Kitchen

Where, then, are our Honeywell Kitchen Computers? Walter Cronkite may be happy to find that its spirit is very well alive today — but reincarnated as a connected device hub and not a monolithic island taking up your entire kitchen. Several significant infrastructure improvements in the past decades have made this possible, most of which were not obvious to the futurists of the past.

  1. Battery Energy Density: Even though today’s battery constraints remain a headache for hardware engineers, our current version of batteries did not even exist in the 1960's. It was not until the 1970's that lithium batteries were first proposed by S. M. Whittingham, while working for Exxon. Technologists in the 1960's could not imagine an appliance that wasn’t leashed to an A/C outlet, and consequently we now live in a world of mobile devices.
Image source: http://kk.org/thetechnium/2009/07/was-moores-law/
Image source: http://www.digitaltvnews.net/?p=23714

The “Kitchen Computer” is instead a functional hub of diet choices and connected peripherals, synchronized to help guide you in your eating decisions and to remove the “pain” from understanding how food is prepared.

Although many of us have never acquired the ability to cook from scratch, the ritual of cooking remains appealing — a nerve hit on by the creators of Meld, a connected stove-top knob. With the Meld Knob, Clip, and mobile app, consumers can follow a minute-by-minute recipe guide that nearly eliminates rookie mistakes in the kitchen… but at that point, are consumers actually cooking, or just following “paint-by-numbers” directions?

BLE BLTs

The emerging consumer focus on holistic wellness will naturally move from the gym to encompass the kitchen. Fitness trackers and cooking appliances will be configured to share information with a centralized core “health” system.

Sous-vide is auto-tune for cooking

Laziness — the opposite of fitness — is ironically just as much of a driving factor for consumers. For many Millenials, the ability to forever skip learning to cook, in favor of on-demand meal delivery (e.g. Sprig, Munchery, DoorDash), has become a popular choice. For the more nostalgic eaters among us, simplified cooking and “almost a meal” ready-to-cook kits may fulfill the need to eat (e.g. PlateJoy, Blue Apron, Plated).

In order to provide a differentiated and valuable user experience, connected appliances will have to integrate with on-demand food services, in addition to other software.

Will we ever live in fully-automated connected “Smart Homes”? If so, the Connected Kitchen is a good place to start. And while CES continues to provide amusement through novel refrigerators equipped with tablets and sound systems, new on-demand food services may soon render the refrigerator something of a leftover itself. The bottom line is that everyone still eats three times a day, as we always have, but we are now faced with more choice than ever when it comes to feeding ourselves. The market for “FoodTech” remains large and will continue to evolve by rewarding the startups and products that best understand the trade-offs between time, money, flavor, and ritual.

I like to build things. Glider pilot. Eyes bigger than bookshelf.

I like to build things. Glider pilot. Eyes bigger than bookshelf.