In the future, catering operations could be run in a very different way. Today, commercial refrigeration is the backbone of the catering industry. It’s an important part of stock storage and warehouse processes, as well as supplying chilled items in restaurants and cafes around the world. The machines are used by staff members, who refill and clean their fridges as required.
The rise of ‘smart’ internet-connected fridges could change that dynamic. According to those in the industry, we are moving towards a time when the fridge-freezer might be able to understand when it was empty of a specific product and to then be authorised to place an appropriate order to replenish itself. Through internet connectivity, users could enable their fridge-freezer to access payment details and to make purchases. This is a form of artificial intelligence, which although in its earliest stages could be a huge step for improving efficiency around the home. Though it may raise certain questions regarding whether or not this is a useful application of advanced technologies or if we will become overly reliant on robotics, it is nonetheless an exciting idea.
Technically, there has been a fridge connected to the internet since 1998. In the Netherlands, an individual connected a device to the internet simply to quantify the number of times the fridge door is opened. This is not the same level of information as is desired in more contemporary smart fridge designs. This was more of a novelty experiment, successfully determining that it was possible to have an appliance such as the fridge-freezer maintain a connection and broadcast its data.
On the other hand, this early approach also opens the door for adapting similar data for more useful functions within commercial refrigeration and in the home too. For instance, a device which is able to report what time its doors were opened could be useful for stock taking, especially if used alongside other information such as identity verification.
Of course, for most people the best use of this new technological development is to have a fridge which is capable of doing its own shopping. Companies such as fridge freezer direct sell a range of fridge-freezers, but at the moment they require a human to purchase the food and to monitor their own usage. In the future, it is possible that a barcode-scanning device would monitor items being placed on to the shelves, analysing patterns within this data to observe which products are the most popular and which need to be replaced.
For example, the fridge’s internal computer might note that milk was placed in the fridge on a Monday each week but that it is always absent from the shelf by the Thursday. The fridge processor might then deduce that either a larger milk bottle purchase should be made for the Monday delivery or that a second order should be placed later in the week too.
In this way, processing power and a connection to the internet would facilitate the fridge almost filling itself.