Kitchen may – and should – be smart

We asked Flavio, a 14 year-old, what he likes to do best. He replied that he loves to go to the movies with friends, to watch 3D releases, spends a good many hours of his day playing games in various media and does not miss the opportunity of chatting via electronic messaging. We asked him several questions to better understand the quality of his emotional formation and his family relationships, besides the moment and place where this is most frequent.

The HOME appeared as the main link and central element in his family, as expected. We then moved on to refine our questions in order to understand important details, and this time the highlight was the living room, that acquired the position of main meeting point in the house.

However, sometimes treated as the ugly duckling of the house, the kitchen also appeared as a space of rich and important family interaction, intertwined with the pleasures of food aroma and taste.

With this view, we then moved on to focus on the things present (and missing) in that space. We found photos, scribbled messages, calendars, electronic devices and clocks. We then focused on the people and their interaction with such things and saw many interaction patterns with the so-called smart-gadgets (or smart appliances) scattered around the kitchen, with special prominence to smartphones and tablets present in the living room, all of them with touchscreens. It was then that we saw a central element in the kitchen, a kind of message board that also supplies the whole house – the fridge – and understood that it too should become smart.

Leaving aside the narrative appeal of the story above, this is what happened when Whirlpool, manufacturer of house appliances and owner of the Brastemp brand, decided to establish a partnership with CESAR to bring more innovation to the Brazilian homes. We used the CESAR innovation Process (PIC) that focuses on human beings and their interactions with the world – the so-called Design-Thinking or User-Centred Design. The process consists of 4 structural stages, Research, Ideation, Evaluation and Prototyping.

Based on reliable information elicited through research with future users of the product under development, the Refrigeration, Electronics, User Experience (UX) and Marketing teams from Whirlpool, together with the UX and Smart Environments from CESAR, made sure that it was the right time to introduce a smart fridge, where all commands were given through a touch screen display.

It was also possible to define which processor and storage device the fridge would support as well as which operating system could give the quickest answers from the software development viewpoint to a consumer that expected to Interact not with a personal computer coupled to a fridge door, but with a fridge that would make Family life easier and made the kitchen a more friendly, sociable environment.

As a result of this work, the Inverse Maxi, the first truly smart fridge in Brazil was created. Flávio, our character from the beginning of this text, and not as fictitious as it may seem, does not need to stop playing games in his tablet while watching TV in the living room to answer his mother’s request to time food cooking times, since his mother can now do it by herself directly on the fridge’s screen.

Since then, on the day following the family’s Holiday trips, a Monday in general, pictures reminding them of the nice moments spent together are digitally presented on the fridge’s door, making coming back to reality a little less complicated. Now, instead of every family member avoiding making shopping lists, they merely take pictures of the QR code generated on the fridge’s door and this list is sent automatically to their pocket, to their mobile phone.

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