Putting the app in appliance

GE’s new smart appliances are cool, but where are my retrofits?

GE is introducing some smart appliances designed to save time and energy at CES in Las Vegas this week, but all I can wonder as I gaze into my more productive and energy-efficient future is “Where are my retrofits?” The appliance giant has added several new products to its line of connected home goods including a connected water heater, which lacks wow but could save on wages thanks to being able to lower your water heater’s temperature when you’re not around.

Meanwhile, I’m wondering how long we’ll have to wait before we can see the benefits of such efficiencies across a wide scale. I just bought new appliances in 2012 for a new home, so I’m not replacing any of them for a decade or so. That’s why I’m keen to see retrofits that might help make my ovens, washers and dryers a bit smarter.

Currently GE offers a line of connected wall ovens that lets you start pre-heating an oven when you’re on your drive home, for example. It’s now adding several other connected appliances such as a french door-style bottom-freezer refrigerator available in April 2015; a connected dishwasher available in late 2015; a washer and dryer available in May 2015; and the GeoSpring water heater available in February 2015.

Each appliance will work with its own app as well as with the GE Quirky Wink hub and associated devices. GE touted features like knowing when your dishwasher gets blocked by an errant plate or pot or begins to leak. You also get notices about your clothes in your washer and dryer so you don’t let wrinkles set in or leave your clothes in the washer so long that they develop mildew (guilty). Today reminders are the focus, but GE will quickly move to optimizations designed around how you live your life and even efforts to help you save energy by working with other appliances is my guess.

For example, during an energy-savings event set by your utility, your thermostat might notify your dryer to hold off for a bit or even negotiate between your dryer, A/C and your dishwasher over whose job gets precedence during a peak demand time. Such scenarios are the future in the smart home, and we should start preparing ways to implement them that lets the consumer have a say in how their data is used and how such negotiations play out.

On the water heater side, there are devices like this one from Aquanta or this one from Rheem, but there is little to retrofit a fridge or a washer or dryer to make it smarter. I covered a Kickstarter that tried to make ovens a bit smarter, but it failed.

At CES some Italian engineers are showing off a system of pads that you place food on inside the fridge, called Smart Qsine. The pads may be reasonably priced at between $15 and $50 for each smart pad you want to use (you need one pad per item you want to track, so you can’t track everything). They should be available in April 2015. I also like the idea of a strategically placed camera inside a fridge, although the darkness is a challenge, as is the cold (which drains batteries) and the door (which blocks wireless signals.)

Side note on the fridge stuff, GE Appliances has a partnership Local Motors called FirstBuild which is a place where makers can get together to build community-designed appliances and things that can plug into them. The first product, called the ChillHub is being shown at CES and is on sale for $2,999 now, and seems kind of awesome if you like geeking out and puns. Check it out here, but I’ll just point out that one of the add-ons is a scale like the SmartQsine folks have called the Milky Weigh, which is designed for weighing your milk jug and reporting back to your smart phone when you need to pick up more.

So, while I expect a lot more smart appliances at the show and not a lot of immediate availability or pricing. I am hoping to see some creative retrofits, because that’s what I think will get people to adopt the internet of things in more depth. Meanwhile, I look forward to 2023 when I can maybe replace my aging appliances with connected ones. By then, perhaps we’ll have this standards stuff all worked out.

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