In tech terms, smart means connected. For the rest of us, it means technology that saves us money or protects the environment. If it’s really smart, it does both. Appliances are getting really smart.
In recent years, all washing machines manufacturers have been working on ensuring appliances use the least possible amount of water, electricity and detergent. Internet-connected washing machines such as those made by Bosch Siemens take this to a new level, automatically updating the tumble dryer to what's coming its way too, ensuring it can optimise its energy usage.
Some of its high-end cookers can detect when your food is cooked, thanks to moisture sensors. Intelligent probes can tell when your joint of meat has hit the required temperature, switch itself off and alert you on your phone to that fact. All of this helps ensure energy waste is reduced.
Indeed, some new ovens are so efficient, and heat up so quickly that you can even put some kinds of products into them when the oven is still cold, eliminating the traditional 15-minute heat-up time.
A smart fridge will help not just by being energy efficient but by helping you reduce food waste too. Currently, some appliances allow you key in expiry dates of various food stuffs as they go into the fridge. It won’t be long before your fridge will be able to read the labels and log the details accordingly, without your intervention, suggests Peter Wadsworth, innovations manager at BSH Home Appliances.
It is estimated that about one third of household food purchases are wasted. That’s not just deleterious to your wallet – when you consider the resources required to grow and or process it, it’s damaging to the planet too.
Some fridges now come with internal cameras that send pictures to your mobile phone. “If you’re in the supermarket and you’re wondering if you need milk, you can just check your phone,” he says.
Fridges with dedicated compartments, cooled for specific food types, help too, ensuring you get the maximum freshness, and the maximum longevity, for various items, whether fish, fowl or fruit.
“We will get to the stage where you will get notifications to tell you your strawberries are going off soon, here’s a recommended recipe for a strawberry dish,” said Wadsworth.
“These kind of reminders will be more widespread in the future. At the moment, they are available in top-of-the-range appliances but will start to filter down. It’s a bit like the way ABS or airbags used to be a selling point in cars but now are just seen as standard. These kind of smart features will soon be expected of appliances.”
Smart thermostats and meters have a role to play in waste reduction too.
"Smart home technology removes the human element of guesswork and trying to plan when you might need your energy. It gives consumers the control they need to manage their systems remotely, which reduces their energy consumption and ultimately benefits the environment," says Colin Bebbington, retail director with Bord Gáis Energy.
He believes its roll-out of smart metering will help by removing the need for estimated bills. The first such meters are expected to be integrated into the system from 2021. When fully operational they “have the potential to bring benefits to the consumer, the environment and the economy”, he says.
“Smart meters will give consumers access to more accurate and regular information on their electricity usage, enabling them to make more informed choices about their consumption and tariffs. Accurate information about energy usage across the day provides consumers with the potential to manage bills with greater accuracy, which in turn benefits the environment as it encourages energy efficiency and supports an increase in renewable power on the electricity system.”