Smart appliances having a say in the kitchen

Your appliances are getting smarter. Fridges can tell you when your milk will expire, create shopping lists and even let you send tweets to your social media friends on Twitter.

MONTREAL — Your appliances are getting smarter.

Fridges can tell you when your milk will expire, create shopping lists and even let you send tweets to your social media friends on Twitter.

The connected oven allows cooks to find recipes online. Washers and dryers can self-diagnose their problems, save energy and connect to smart meters if they’re available.

Technology is now catching up with the kind of fictional appliances once seen on shows like the 1960s space age cartoon, The Jetsons.

Forgot your shopping list?

“Turn on your smartphone and connect with the refrigerator and it will tell you what’s in the fridge,” said Frank Lee, spokesman for LG Electronics which has launched its line of Thinq smart appliances.

LG’s Thinq fridge also has a barcode scanner to keep track of when foods will expire.

Home Wi-Fi networks, smartphones and their software apps, computer tablets and machines being able to “talk” to other machines are making such tasks possible.

Lee said LG introduced an Internet-connected fridge that communicated with other appliances about 10 years ago but it was ahead of its time.

“Broadband technology and cellphones — we just hadn’t got to the level we enjoy now,” he said.

Kenmore, General Electric, Whirlpool and Samsung — which sells the tweeting fridge — also are adding smart appliances to their lines.

Technology analyst Martin LaMonica predicts smart appliances that are too complicated and too expensive won’t have wide consumer appeal.

“I don’t think these things are going to catch on like fire but, if they’re simple enough and not much more expensive, I think it will start to take hold little by little,” said LaMonica, senior editor at CNET News, which provides technology news and reviews.

“You have to have something beyond, ’Oh, it connects to the Internet,”’ LaMonica said from Boston. Smart appliances need a combination of features and applications, he said.

“You will be able to monitor how much energy they use, program things a little more easily. But maybe there’s some other fun features, like sending you a text when your washing is done or remotely controlling your thermostat.”

LaMonica isn’t fond of the “Jetson-like” features such as telling consumers when their food expires. Nor does he like the idea of a fridge that allows consumers to use Twitter. “I think people have their little smartphones, which do a whole lot of these things already,” said LaMonica, who also writes a green tech blog at CNET.

Appliances that move jobs to off-peak energy times and can connect to a smart meter will save consumers money. But he noted they don’t have to be connected to the Internet to use less water and have shorter cleaning cycles.

Mansell Nelson of Rogers Wireless (TSX:RCI.B) said consumer electronics companies want to connect a diverse array of products — appliances, picture frames, e-readers, game consoles — to networks.

“A connected fridge or dishwasher is on the same network that mobile phone users are on,” said Nelson, vice-president of Rogers machine-to-machine communications.

Rogers estimates there are 360 million connected devices in Canada. In the next five years, the telecom company is expecting that to grow by 500 per cent and with no strain on bandwidth.

“Most of these types of applications, the car, the appliances, actually use very little amounts of data,” Nelson said from Toronto. Machine-to-machine communications can allow appliance manufacturers to track how a dishwasher is performing. If something goes wrong, a consumer is contacted before it grinds to a halt, Nelson said.