The future is calling and it’s asking for a new kitchen. A team at Virginia Tech is answering, with a plan for a ‘smart kitchen’ that makes full use of technology.
It’s been talked about for decades: A kitchen of the proverbial future that does the work for you. Here’s the late actor, Burgess Meredith, reading from a short story by the, also late, science fiction writer, Ray Bradbury. It’s called, “And There Will Come Soft Rains,’ and it was published in 1950.
"In the kitchen, the breakfast stove gave a hissing sigh and ejected from it’s warm interior, 8 pieces of perfectly brown toast, 8 eggs sunny side up, 16 slices of bacon, two coffees and two cool glasses of milk. ‘Today is August 4, 2026, said a second voice from the kitchen ceiling….”
"The future is now because we have so much technology that’s waiting to be utilized," says Joe Wheeler, professor of Architecture and co –director of the Center for Design Research at Virginia Tech.
"It’s frustrating to me because arch is not utilizing it. You see everything else. We’ve got these in our back pockets, these smart phones and we’re getting used to it and we’re getting comfortable with it and it’s only a matter of time before someone does this so here at Virginia Tech we want to be the ones to do it."
The ‘ it,’ is what Wheeler calls multi modal function; Voice control, tablet control, touch assisted or, hands free and screens everywhere.
"The centerpiece of the kitchen, we call it the ‘social table.’ The social table is an island that has a horizontal touch screen display. So on the surface you can explore Google maps, you can look up recipes. In the morning you can check the weather and check your email. This is coordinated with three monitors behind the backsplash. These 3 monitors are touch screen capable so if you look up a recipe and find a recipe that you want you can sweep it over onto these monitors."
This prototype kitchen of the future aims to test a variety of functions to see what the public may want. Many appliance companies have been slow to move forward because they’re unsure of just what that is. Wheeler says Jennair has become a sponsor of the project and is eager to design both its high end and Whirlpool line with ideas from the design team at Virginia Tech. For example, students who eat a lot of microwave popcorn suggested a microphone inside to hear when the pops slow down and turn itself off that moment of popcorn perfection.
"But what we love about it, as architect’s is that we can deliver the kitchen of the future through this process that’s really construction of the future."
They call it a ‘cartridge’ - a fully assembled, in this case, 17 and a half foot long prefabricated entire kitchen unit, designed to be popped in whole, rather than assembled on site. Instead of just having dinner delivered, you'd have your entire kitchen brought over, including the hot sauce, that is the built in programming for how it will function.
"Conventional construction is so stuck in time and the process is limiting to how much technology you can have. We're looking at the opportunity of pre-fab to be able to deliver something competitive with conventional construction, but also high tech."
One proof of concept is coming up in a few weeks. Virginia Tech’s smart kitchen will be loaded onto a truck and brought to Vegas where it will highlight K-BIS, the Kitchen and Bath Industry show. In the spring, it will travel to Atlanta for the American Institute of Architects’ national convention.