Smart fridges foresee sci-fi future, but experts aren’t convinced

The future of fridges has entered the realm of science fiction after an electronics company unveiled a mobile model that responds to voice commands.

Panasonic’s Moving Fridge can be summoned by saying: “Fridge, come here.” It can then navigate its way around the home to deliver its contents to the sofa, for example.

It uses technology similar to robot vacuum cleaners, such as Roomba, which have sensors to avoid knocking into things.

There are also plans to add a warming plate on top of the fridge to keep meals hot as they’re ferried around the home, according to technology site Engadget.

Panasonic said the appliance would be useful for people with mobility issues.

A prototype of the fridge was unveiled this month as part of the Better Living Tomorrow collection at the Internationale Funkausstellung trade fair in Berlin.

It uses technology similar to robot vacuum cleaners like Roomba, which have sensors to avoid knocking into things around the home. Photo: Panasonic

Professor Rob Sparrow, from the department of philosophy at Melbourne’s Monash University, said he couldn’t see the appliance as being practical.

“I don’t think there’s any demand for a fridge that moves around the house, except as a novelty item,” Professor Sparrow told The New Daily.

Peter Stratton, a research fellow at the Queensland University’s Brain Institute said the Moving Fridge would face numerous hurdles – literal and figurative.

“Whose house looks like that? And you know it will be s-l-o-w,” Dr Stratton said. “And will it be able to actually find you? Or get over the rug in front of the TV? And not get stuck in a corner, or scrape the wall, or spill anything that’s in there?”

Samsung smart fridge

Last year, Samsung launched its Family Hub Refrigerator and unveiled the 2.0 model in January this year at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas.

The three- to four-door fridges have an artificial intelligence assistant called Alexa – like Apple iPhone’s Siri. You can also view the inside of the fridge while grocery shopping. The Family Hub Fridge has three cameras on the inside and takes pictures of its contents when you open and close the doors, which you can view in an app.

Owners can also ask Alexa to devise a shopping list.

Through a 21.5-inch (54.6-centimetre) touchscreen on the fridge door, owners can also check for news updates, weather forecasts and play music through its in-built speaker system.

The fridge can provide 180,000 recipes, and suggest meals based on the ingredients in the fridge.

The Samsung Family Hub Fridge allows owners to check the contents of the fridge from a smartphone app.
The Samsung Family Hub Fridge allows owners to check the contents of the fridge from a smartphone app. Photo: Samsung

The computer has calendars to sync family plans, memos and can even hold digital photo albums.

A compatible smart television can also be connected to the fridge screen so a program or movie can play concurrently if someone’s cooking.

The 671-litre fridge is available from Australian retailers for between $5877 and $5999.

Professor Sparrow said the Samsung fridge was a more commercially viable fridge, but was still sceptical there was demand for the features it provides.

“Think about all the hassles people have nowadays … is it really worth adding the fridge to the network?”

He said advancements were moving faster than Australians replaced their fridges.

“Obsolescence is a real problem for all of these technologies,” he said.

Professor Sparrow said the fridges could raise privacy concerns, as people or companies could access photos of what’s stocked in your fridge.

The appliances could also end up rejecting, or not recognising, some items – like the inability to deal with both Mac products and PC computers.

Professor Sparrow pointed, by way of example, that modern printers were rejecting third-party cartridges.

Dr Stratton added that most fridges were cluttered and would be difficult to identify each item.

“In general, people want AI [artificial intelligence] to just work,” he said.

“It needs to be effortless for them while adding significant advantages, or they just won’t bother.

“These fridges pretty clearly fall into the gimmick category – more fiddly and trouble than the slight advantages that they offer are worth.”

The New Daily has approached Panasonic and Samsung for comment.

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