Baby, It's Cold Inside: Smart Appliances & RFID

RFID in your Fridge

Although RFID has yet to track your tuna salad or leftovers, it won’t be long before that happens. Get ready: your fridge is set to become smarter than you.

Not only that, appliance manufacturers are also equipping ovens, washers, dryers and smaller appliances such as coffeemakers with RFID tags. This was one of the buzzes-du-jour at the recent Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in Las Vegas.

Like all things RFID, though, whether you want your lettuce head “speaking” to you by virtue of an electronic signal, may seem unsettling. Yet, like all new things, some people will embrace readily while others must be convinced.

New horizons? Not just yet

Giovanni Codegoni, sales manager with Italy’s Lab ID, says adoption of RFID-embedded home appliances is a ways off. And the adoption, at least for refrigerators, will be dependent upon the food chain, too.

However, “I think we will have some news this year because some big brands are working together,” he says. “Appliance manufacturers are working with the food producers, so in combination with them, [RFID appliances will be for sale at retail stores.] I think it’s, of course, a joint design [with these food producers].”

However, the way forward may not be so complex when it comes to washers and dryers. Further, without the bane of food spoilage or allergy concerns, something as innocuous as a washing machine may be the perfect home for that RFID reader, which is going to read a “tag” on your jeans.

Codegoni says that too, “the dimension [of a reader] on the washing machine is not an issue. The issue is protecting the laundry tag, which must be washed and cleaned.”

Lab ID employs multiple antennas, he said, to carry the frequency that reads tags attached to your laundry.

How much, how fast?

Yet, how far off in the future is this?

A call to a local appliance retailer in Connecticut disproved the notion that RFID is already inside the fridge door. They sell plenty of smart items, we were told, but nothing with RFID. The closest is probably a smart app from LG that communicates with your dryer so you can monitor the cycle remotely.

That said, according to John Devlin, an RFID and NFC specialist with ABI Research in London, RFID-equipped coffeemakers are already rolling out in the States. For example, Keurig, manufacturer of the popular single-cup coffee brewers, has launched the Vue Brewing System with RFID technology. A chip on each coffee pod sends the brewer temperature and other variables specific to the type of coffee.

However, he cautions that a wave of larger RFID appliances is not available right now, at least not in the US.

“They’re [large RFID-embedded appliances like washers and refrigerators] available in Korea,” he says. “I saw the LG ones being advertised when there in November just past.”

Yet as to when they’ll reach the US, he says he isn’t sure.

“Although I doubt that it would happen this year, if for no other reason other than Apple has such a strong base in the US that the addressable market is limited.  However, given the spread and uptake of NFC in other devices it could well gain momentum next year,” Devlin says.

He expects that between 2015-16, large appliances will take hold with early adopters, although this may not be “truly mainstream” until 2017-18.

He says, though, that the growth in adoption of RFID-enabled appliances is set to explode in the coming years.

“[With] domestic appliances alone (excluding CE) the market should increase about 14 fold from 2014 through to 2018, and this is on top of a four-fold increase expected this year over 2013,” he says, adding that the market will effectively double each year through 2017.

Yellow Brick or Rocky Road?

Codegoni, who’s not at liberty to disclose specific client information, is bullish on how RFID is going to help us in our homes – from that first cuppa joe to that last midnight snack.

Firstly, regarding the question of cost, he says he doesn’t foresee that being an issue; for example, he claims an oven wouldn’t be much more expensive than we are used to paying.

Secondly, benefits to the consumer include being alerted as to when her broccoli has spoiled or whether Uncle John, with the peanut allergy, shouldn’t eat a certain baked good in the fridge.

And as importantly, in Europe at least, concerns about “counterfeited” food items are a real concern. For example, a lot of food may say it’s “made in Italy” but it could have been made anywhere.

“In Italy we are suffering a lot from having food that is not original but is good,” Codegoni says.

For example, he thinks the consumer market would and is accepting RFID tags on food and by extension, our refrigerators, for practical reasons. Mobile phones that interact with recipes or send a signal to alert for allergy concerns could become very welcome. One already is seeing changes at the supermarket, where smart phones let shoppers save $3.00 on five pounds of peas or enjoy other savings.

“You can detect a lot of things [through RFID] that can be very useful,” Codegoni says.


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