back to article Internet of Things fridges? Pfft. So how does my milk carton know when it's empty?

In today's incredible Internet of Stuff Things world, the fridge is going to tell us we need to restock it with more milk and butter. What bunch of nutters thought this idea up? Let's take a patient walk through what a fridge would have to do to accomplish this, and then ask why it would be better than a fridge user's scan …

COMMENTS

This topic is closed for new posts.
  1. Neil Barnes Silver badge
    FAIL

    The internet of fridges

    What is actually 'required' - I use the term loosely, as in perhaps something that might be marginally useful - is a current picture of the inside of the fridge, so I can bloody well see what's in there (or not in there) when I get to the cheese counter.

    Of course, there are still technical challenges to overcome - for example, if the door is shut, the little light is out, so the picture will be rather gloomy. Infrared isn't going to work too well, what with the cold in there... but I'm sure there's nothing insurmountable a couple of doctoral candidates couldn't sort out.

    1. cambsukguy

      Re: The internet of fridges

      I think this is close:

      http://refrigerators.reviewed.com/content/a-hands-on-snapshot-of-new-siemens-camera-fridge

      Or:

      http://www.digitaltrends.com/home/quirkys-snapchat-for-grocery-shopping-device-will-remind-you-whats-in-your-fridge/#!Z7ekD

      If it takes a picture when you open the door, or, better still, just as you close it, the end result would be a close approximation to the current state.

      You brain will still have to remember whether that milk carton was light or heavy and how old the milk was of course.

      If only they changed the bar code to put the week or day number of the use-by date on the end, or printed them separately on all sides of the carton(s). Then a camera/software could, at least, tell you what was coming to it's useful end - I could then add a couple of weeks manually.

    2. Elmer Phud

      Re: The internet of fridges

      "if the door is shut, the little light is out,"

      But is it?

      Is there a cat in the fridge as well?

      1. TRT Silver badge

        Re: The internet of fridges

        *switches from IR scanner to UV*

        1. Anonymous Custard Silver badge
          Boffin

          Re: The internet of fridges

          Hang on, Heath Robinson and Rube Goldberg were supposed to be satirists, not visionaries.

          Somewhere in heaven they'll be having a good laugh at all this nonsense methinks...

      2. John 156
        Boffin

        Re: The internet of fridges

        ""if the door is shut, the little light is out,"

        But is it?"

        Yes it is, by inference, as you will find a lever at the top of the fridge which can be operated manually instead of by the door to switch off the light.

        1. Keith 21
          Trollface

          Re: The internet of fridges

          """if the door is shut, the little light is out,"

          But is it?"

          Yes it is, by inference, as you will find a lever at the top of the fridge which can be operated manually instead of by the door to switch off the light."

          Yes, but when the door is closed, how do you KNOW that lever has actually switched the light off?

          All you know is that with the door open, move the lever and the light goes out. When the door is open.

          When the door is CLOSED, however, you are in a different scenario, with no way to observe, and all bets are off.

          Oh, and don't for one second suggest one could add a camera to observe the inside of the fridge, for then one has changed the conditions again and entered a third scenario...

        2. hplasm Silver badge
          Happy

          Re: The internet of fridges

          "...you will find a lever at the top of the fridge which can be operated manually instead of by the door to switch off the light."

          Only when the door is open...

      3. big_D Silver badge

        Re: The internet of fridges

        It's a gnome, not a cay. They will be replaced by artistic gnomes in the future, who draw a quick picture of the fridge, before he takes a swig of milk and turns off the light.

        I always look at the fridge when I make the shopping list, before I drive to the supermarket...

    3. Bullseyed

      Re: The internet of fridges

      No, optical isn't necessary. RFID does the task.

      "Terrific. How does it know it needs topping up? No, really. How does the fridge know it's running out of milk, butter and cheese? These things are just cartons or plastic bags with stuff inside them. How does a freakin' fridge know what's inside them? Is it supposed to have some form of food item pattern recognition capability that can also detect actual amounts of solid or fluid foodstuffs?"

      We're not far away from RFID price tags and expiration dates. We can use temperature sensitive "stripes" as part of this, which then can determine things like the full-ness of a gallon of milk or a box of butter. Some other items obviously get harder, like a head of lettuce, but other items are easy like cups of yogurt.

      The other option is weight based shelves. The fridge knows what is on the shelf so it knows what the weight should be. It counts out things it knows like the aforementioned yogurt and milk. It knows how much a box of butter should weigh and a head of lettuce, so it can "guess" the level of butter/lettuce within a reasonable rate, combining some optical sensors for things like size of the head of lettuce.

      1. Matt Bryant Silver badge

        Re: Bullseyed Re: The internet of fridges

        ".....RFID does the task..." Half the task anyway. The other half is by having designated holders in the fridge into which you put a standard measure each time. At the bottom of the holder is a simple electric scale that measures the weight remaining - it already knows the full and nearly-empty weights for set measures (like a litre of milk or a 450g bar of butter) and you can program new values in for new standards you want to set, and adjust the nearly-empty values up or down dependent on your consumption pattern. RFID tags will cover you for the items you use all of at once and will automatically update inventory when you put your shopping away. You could even design one that used barcodes now and not even bother with RFID. Sound too complex? Not really. I once worked on the design of a system for an automated factory that held a stock of over 2000 different components in smart bins, each bin having a similar scale built in, and when the weight of the bin fell to a particular level (equivalent to three working day's worth of that component by weight) the system automatically ordered more. The back end was a single-CPU UNIX server that ran a simple database (PostgreSQL IIRC). That was about fifteen years ago, so you could probably run the same code on a Raspberry Pi today.

      2. John Deeb

        Re: The internet of fridges

        Bulleyes and some follow-up comments. The weight based shelves would only work if every item in the fridge is RFID enabled and not thrown at the shelves and containers in a chaotic way but preferable in a neat sequence. Just like programmers would fill their virtual fridge in a fricking demo! In real messy life the fridge will forever remain in a partially confused state.

        "Sensitivity stripes" would be a problem on items where the packaging is already too much part of the cost and recycling woes. And as you already wrote, fridges of people not working on these projects - with less predictable and organized live - are often filled with many fresh, self-made, rather undefined and other unpackaged items. So then we need to have two administrations where there was only one before.

        But with large scale applications, like storage rooms for massive food preparations, high volumes, predictable items, this could be actually useful. And as someone else already wrote here, it's already being done. But at consumer level it's in the "hoover car" and "jet pack" category for sure!

        1. Richard 12 Silver badge
          Boffin

          Re: The internet of fridges

          No RFID is completely and totally stupid for this.

          The only things you need for this are much, much cheaper and are already used in some food dispensers and also the pick'n'place machines that made the PCBs in the computing equipment you're using to read this.

          ♳ Every shelf has an array of weight sensors.

          ♴ The fridge has an array of relatively high resolution cameras watching the shelves from several angles.

          ♵ Tracked foodstuff item packaging has a 2D barcode printed on it.

          ♶ The fridge then uses the cameras and 2D barcodes to identify the foodstuff, use-by date and 'full' and 'empty' weights of each item.

          ♷ The array of weight sensors then allows the fridge to figure out whether a given container is nearly empty, and the historical database indicates when a given type of item has gone completely.

          In theory the existing 1D barcodes that are already on almost everything give nearly enough information - they identify rough product groups (not specific products as UPCs are expensive), which is probably good enough for most purposes as "500ml Muller yogurt" is usually enough, even if you don't know the flavour.

          They don't include the use-by dates though.

          (Excessively ornate bulletpoints included because the whole idea is excessively ornate)

          1. Mike Dimmick

            UPCs are incredibly cheap

            Membership of your national GS1 subsidiary costs a couple of hundred to a couples of thousand dollars depending on your company turnover. GS1 UK charge £107 joining fee and £117 annual membership if your turnover is under £500k, which entitled you to codes for 1,000 distinct products. There is no per-product fee. You just have to include the barcode in the label you were going to print anyway. It literally costs nothing beyond ensuring that the printed label is in spec.

            For turnover of £1bn or higher, the joining fee is £327 and annual fee is £2,602, which gets you a prefix valid for 100,000 product codes.

            A Global Trade Item Number (UPC is a subset) describes one product. Not a family. In the milk example, skimmed milk will have a different code from semi-skimmed. A 2pt container will have a different code from 1pt. Organic a different code from regular, from value. Order the same code and you'll get the same back.

            RFID tags contain the GTIN as one of the data components, so you don't make any saving compared to a paper barcode - you still have to be a member of GS1 if you want to sell your products at any retailer. If you just want to sell your products in-house, there's a range of GTIN codes reserved for private use.

            If you want fewer than 1,000 codes, you can go to a reseller who will register your product under one of their prefixes. They can be a lot more expensive per code. You still only pay once to register the product, every use of that code is free.

      3. Deltics

        Re: The internet of fridges

        You just extended the problem domain further....

        If the fridge works it's magic by knowing what items are on which shelves then it must also now be able to accomodate the situation where someone removes an item from one shelf and then carelessly replaces that item on a DIFFERENT shelf.

        "Honey, where did you put the yoghurt?"

        - "In the fridge"

        "Yes, sweetness of my life, but WHERE in the fridge?"

        - "Oh for pity's sake, I can't remember.... ask the damned fridge"

        And, better yet, when the said item has in fact been depleted, do we require now that the consumer replace the empty packaging back in the fridge so that the appliance can be apprised of the food item depletion incident and can thus inform the consumer (who of course already depleted it) ?

        Otherwise, how does the fridge tell the difference between "We've used up all the milk" and "Janet/Bob left the damned fridge out on the worktop again, the lazy cow/git" ?

        Or even "We've run out of peanut butter" and "Some idiot put the peanut butter in the pantry instead of the fridge".

        No, sorry. Weight based shelves or any other "solution" to any problem int he domain that you think you might have come up with simply create MORE PROBLEMS.

        1. graham_

          Re: The internet of fridges

          "when the said item has in fact been depleted, do we require now that the consumer replace the empty packaging back in the fridge"

          That's what everyone in my house does, maybe smart fridges should start on tackling these bigger issues

      4. big_D Silver badge

        Re: The internet of fridges

        @bullseyed we work with RFID and a disposable tag on a carcass for traceability is 'too expensive' for the supply chain, because they can't be made for less than 10c.Even if the price of every item on the shelf in the supermarket went up by a couple of cents to cover the RFID chip, just for the 2 people who have bought a smart fridge, the public would revolt. For 99% of people, this is an irrelevant 'first world' problem that they don't need a solution to.

        If I buy a new device, it needs to save energy, not use more energy to give me useless information.

      5. Handler

        Re: The internet of fridges

        How do you account for leftovers or the residue from take-away dinners?

    4. ItsNotMe
      Mushroom

      Re: The internet of fridges

      There isn't a snowball's chance in Hell I would ever connect anything in my home, other than a computer, to the Internet.

      1. Mage Silver badge

        Re: The internet of fridges

        Actually I don't even want my computer connected DIRECTLY to the Internet ever again ...

  2. John H Woods

    Devil's advocate says...

    ... containers don't need to be smart if it scans in and out and the shelves have weight sensors. If it knows that you have taken a 1pt carton out, it got 595g lighter, and when you put it back in it only gets 205g heavier again, then it knows you've used 390ml milk and that you have 178ml left.

    But I think it's more likely that your supermarket could tell you than that your fridge could: "Hey, John, you used to buy 2pts milk a day and one box of Cap'n Crunch a week but you haven't bought much milk recently, do you need more?"

    This approach is still fallible, of course: "No thank you, Tesco, now that my sons are teenagers I just have milk piped from the local dairy. And when we run out of cereal I have to call Eddie Stobarts"

    1. Anonymous Custard Silver badge
      Mushroom

      Re: Devil's advocate says...

      Judging by the interior of our fridge after Herself has emptied our local Tescos, having weighing shelves wouldn't work. It tends to get so much stuff in there, often stacked up, that it looks like a chilled but edible variant of Tetris.

      Plus if you can only put stuff on allocated spaces inside the thing, then it'll also need standardisation of packaging shapes/materials (for uniform weight from brand to brand) which is a whole other ballgame.

      There is of course the slightly easier options of a "to buy" list stuck on the door of the thing that gets filled in as things are used up (or getting close to being used up) which then becomes part of the shopping list, or of course just looking in the damn thing and quickly inventorying it before going shopping.

      But of course neither of them are innovative, sexy or high-tech (unless you stick a tablet onto the door to act as the list), they just quietly work (most of the time)...

      1. TRT Silver badge

        Re: Devil's advocate says...

        I keep leftovers in my fridge...

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Devil's advocate says...

      Unexpected item in refrigeration area!

      1. I ain't Spartacus Gold badge
        Devil

        Re: Devil's advocate says...

        Unexpected item in refrigeration area!

        Soon followed by, "share and enjoy!"

        Then very rapidly followed by, "die bastard fridge die!!!" [sound of hammering]

        1. Martin-73 Silver badge

          Re: Devil's advocate says...

          Modify the song maybe? "Go stick a pig in your fridge" ?

    3. Danny 4
      Alien

      Re: Devil's advocate says...

      @John H Woods

      That was my initial thought. But if you picked up two objects simultaneously - or rather put them back simultaneously on the same shelf... (It would know what was taken from the fridge and therefore already knows the previous weights.)

      The scanning sounds like a lot of faff. Though I'd be up for one if, across the door threshold, the scanner was the laser mist from Alien. It would also keep the nasties inside the fridge (or the other way around - keep them out?)

      Otherwise, I agree: a solution to a non-existent problem.

    4. TheOtherHobbes

      Re: Devil's advocate says...

      You don't need weight sensors or Magic Milk Measuring Things.

      You just need some shelf-life/usage stats and a timed reminder - which are easy enough to organise with an RFID reader.

      If you were really clever you could count the number of times the carton was in/out of the fridge, and use that as part of the usage estimate.

      You could even - here's a thing - include the use-by date in the RFID tag.

      It won't be perfect, but it will be cheap. And good enough for things like bread and milk.

    5. Isn't it obvious?

      Re: Devil's advocate says...

      I think we're far more likely to see ubiquitous RFID tags on everything that has a sell-by or use-by date. In 5-10 years (thinking the average expected lifespan of in-service fridges) I can easily imagine RFID tags being cheap enough to stick on anything from a carton of eggs to a container of yogurt. And if they're cheap enough for that, then they _will_ be on everything, because of the stock-keeping hassles it will reduce for wholesalers/retailers.

      So then it's just a matter of your fridge inventorying everything that goes in with an RFID tag. _That_ technology is already cheap enough. Obviously it won't be able to keep track of your fresh vegies, but it can track anything packaged. And assuming you don't put empty packages/containers back in, it can tell you (for instance) you're out of butter. (It won't tell you that there's only enough left for one slice of toast tomorrow morning - at least not at first.)

      And who knows, maybe someone bright can figure out a way to use resonance or path timing or who knows what other emergent phenomenon to get a liquid level off a container with an externally-applied RFID tag at a known position. There's loads of people way smarter than I am; I'd be daft to say it can't be done.

      1. Lost in Cyberspace

        Re: Devil's advocate says...

        I can see Tesco, ASDA, Sainsburys et al enforcing it so suppliers won't have a choice.

        My library changed from barcodes to RFID sometime in the last decade (since I last took out a book), so I'm sure groceries will go that way at some point.

        Now, forget about fridges for a sec - if every door in my house had RFID sensors, and every item was chipped up, I would save hours every week looking for stuff.

        1. Intractable Potsherd Silver badge

          Re: Devil's advocate says... @ Lost in Cyberspace

          "Now, forget about fridges for a sec - if every door in my house had RFID sensors, and every item was chipped up, I would save hours every week looking for stuff."

          This is something that could be the breakthrough for this stuff. Forget about bunging all this stuff on the internet - just keep it within the home so that it works for the individual. I'd be quite happy for a system like this, preferably with an ability to assess the height above the floor of the last movement, so I can at last prove that it wasn't me that moved it*!

          * Whatever the "it" is that can't be found.

        2. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: Devil's advocate says...

          Walmart in the USA already insist in every supplier using RFID. Their savings come from simpler product tracking.

          The consumer's savings come from a hassle-free life, less waste, reduced risk from eating out-of-date food, etc.

          I for one welcome our new Internet-connected Fridge overlords...

      2. Steven Roper

        Re: Devil's advocate says...

        "And assuming you don't put empty packages/containers back in"

        And you show me one bachelor's fridge that doesn't have at least two or three empty milk cartons, ketchup bottles, jam jars, butter tubs, or what-have-you...

        1. kiwimuso
          Joke

          Re: Devil's advocate says...

          @Steven Roper

          And how is it going to handle stuff which is so past it's 'Use By' date (assuming it even had one) that the contents have now turned to a nasty shade of grey/green. Milk still weighs much the same despite having turned mostly solid!

          Joke Alert, as the whole idea is a joke.

          I have a far better solution to the problem. I use my eyes and brain - what's left of it after reading this drivel.

          Sounds like a techos wet dream - except as an ex-techo, it doesn't even begin to register on my radar as a must have!

      3. JEDIDIAH
        Alien

        Re: Devil's advocate says...

        Most of the stuff I buy would not have an RFID tag for the same reason it doesn't have a barcode now.

        I also have the Tetris problem as well as the leftovers problem. Most of what's in my fridge are combinations of items that were not sold with bar codes.

  3. malle-herbert Silver badge

    Well... let's see...

    A "smart" fridge could use some kind of system with multiple camera's

    that will do image recognition to identify objects placed in the fridge.

    Objects that have a barcode can be automatically scanned and the

    expiration date could be scanned as well.

    For liquids you could use sensors that detect the weight of the container

    so that when you take it out of the fridge and put it back in, the difference

    in weight can be calculated.

    (This could also work for non-liquids in some kind of a container...)

    For other foodstuffs the fridge could simply aks the user what it is and

    what it's expiration date is through some kind of touch screen interface.

    (Displaying the item on the screen and asking the user for a desciption...)

    And of course the system could learn from all of this by adding the unknown

    foodstuffs to a database so you don't have to do it again and again...

    1. I ain't Spartacus Gold badge

      Re: Well... let's see...

      What when I take several items out at once when cooking (as I try to be efficient when I'm organised), and then put them back in together? Which item lost how much weight?

      What about left-overs. I regualarly cook for more people than are present, in order to freeze leftover portions, so I have (actually edible) ready-meals available to me.

      How much in any fridge is staples, to be instantly replaced and how much is what's available or on offer? Not including parties. My fridge should always contain eggs, milk, limes, fruit juice, various condiments, yoghurt and cheese. Anything else depends on what I could find, or who's coming round for dinner.

      What about using multiple suppliers? I have a greengrocer at the end of my road. I try to buy all my veg from them, unless laziness kicks in and I'm in Sainsbury's anyway.

      What's the point of filling out only a third of my shop? Only about 30-40% of any shop goes in the fridge. The rest is cupboards, bathrooms, laundry cupboard.

      How much is this bloody fridge going to cost? And how long before it breaks down? It's got multiple cameras, multiple weight sensors. What happens when the bulb goes in the fridge, and no-one can be arsed to replace it, so the cameras can't see anything? I'm prepared to believe that the cameras will survive cold and condensation - but not the weighing shelves getting stuff plonked on them every couple of hours, and water dripped on them. And I'd worry for the touchscreen on the door too.

      In my opinion the answer is twofold. Online shopping is good. Have a tablet, wander round kitchen, look in fridge, freezer and cupboards, see what's missing, pick from list of favourites on website, order.

      But I still prefer to go to the shop. So for me, shopping list app on smartphone. When you use the last but one of something, take phone from pocket, add to list. After you've typed the first few letters, it auto-completes if it's something you've used before.

      The internet of fridges is still way too complicated.

      1. jonathanb Silver badge

        Re: Well... let's see...

        There is also the fact that if I'm going on holiday, I run down my stocks of perishable stuff before I go, and leave the fridge mostly empty, so I don't return to a fridge full of rotting food.

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: Well... let's see...

          For some reason my wife does the opposite so when we get back we have to throw all the spoiled food away

  4. Rosie Davies

    RFID

    The article is pretty much sport one in considering the most baroque solution to the problem possible. The problem is that you have run out of something and need to replenish. Given that you are likely to be holding the thing as you run out of it a cheap-as-chips (sic) RFID tag that you can bonk against a reader in your kitchen (or cave for the more discerning Luddite) registering the item in the {phone|tablet|whatever} hosted shopping list would probably do the job. It would certainly save me from forgetting to add rarely purchased and essential items to the shopping list.

    Rosie

    1. Salts

      Re: RFID

      I was thinking along the same lines, but then thought all items have barcodes and barcode apps are available for smart phones and I could start scanning today, I think the problem for me is, I can't be arsed :-)

  5. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Am I the only one who gets this?

    The milk carton only needs an RFID tag to say "I am here". Much like the barcode stickers with a wire loop in them, which already exist! When the carton has been removed from the fridge for more than, say, 10 minutes then we can assume it's not coming back and needs replacing.

    That's as smart as it needs to be.

    1. RISC OS

      Re: Am I the only one who gets this?

      Yeah... if you need a s hopping list telling you to buy stuff you still have

    2. I ain't Spartacus Gold badge

      Re: Am I the only one who gets this?

      Anon,

      I'm guessing you don't have kids. The milk doesn't go back into the fridge until someone sees it on the counter, and shoves it back in. Or in fact guests. Where the milk may be on the table by the tea and coffee stuff for 10 minutes.

      The same is definitely true for cheese, pickle, ketchup, fruit juice.

      Some sort of scanner by the bin and recycling might work though?

  6. Paul Hovnanian Silver badge

    Electronic Nose

    "The milk. That carton you bought 8 weeks ago. It really needs to be thrown out. Now."

    1. Anonymous Custard Silver badge
      Joke

      Re: Electronic Nose

      You'd probably find if you opened the door it would walk/crawl/ooze out quite happily on its own and go lurk in a dark corner and scare the spiders...

      1. Captain DaFt

        Re: Electronic Nose

        "You'd probably find if you opened the door it would walk/crawl/ooze out quite happily on its own and go lurk in a dark corner and scare the spiders..."

        Or start lurking way in the back of the fridge... and every time you open the door you hear it hunting for revenge, "Here, kitty kitty!"

        1. Steven Roper

          Re: Electronic Nose

          Or even worse, you discover it's formed an enlightened civilisation and started demanding political representation and civil liberties. I've had some growths in my fridge that have evolved to the point of attaining telepathic Gestalt superconsciousness...

    2. TRT Silver badge

      Re: Electronic Nose

      if $ageofmilk >> 3 weeks {

      --$quantity[milk];

      ++$quantity[cheese];

      }

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Sorry, had to downvote you.

        You used the bitwise right-shift operator where you should have had a greater-than comparison operator. You can't expect to get away with that on a site like El Reg!

        1. TRT Silver badge

          Re: Sorry, had to downvote you.

          Yes, I know, but the overwhelming need for a pseudocode joke, and wishfulness for a fuzzy logic operator meaning 'much more than' led me into error for which I apologise.

          Of course, fridges operate with fuzzy logic already; if it's fuzzy, don't eat it.

          They also have a rudimentary rank order sorting solution, *sniff* "Rank" "Chuck it"

          1. Charles 9 Silver badge

            Re: Sorry, had to downvote you.

            What if it's MEANT to be fuzzy, like a peach?

  7. stu 4

    What is needed is some sort of robot....

    A (semi) intelligent, Wireless Inventory-taking, Functional Emptor

    W.I.F.E. for short.

    It could be responsible for keeping the fridge stocked, perhaps also cooking, cleaning, etc.

    1. James O'Shea

      Re: What is needed is some sort of robot....

      "A (semi) intelligent, Wireless Inventory-taking, Functional Emptor

      W.I.F.E. for short."

      M'man stu 4 isn't married. And isn't likely to be married anytime soon. If he was, he'd know better than to set himself up as the target for High Acceleration Naughtiness Detecting Ballistic Anti Guy devices (HANDBAGs) like that.

      1. Sir Sham Cad

        Re: What is needed is some sort of robot....

        stu 4, careful or you'll end up in the situation where Deeds Only Get Husband Opprobrium Until Spouse Elects (DOGHOUSE).

    2. Robert Helpmann?? Silver badge
      Childcatcher

      Re: What is needed is some sort of robot....

      Spot on, even in jest. What good is a connected refrigerator if it doesn't tie in to some automation system? It can know what you have and what you are out of, but you will most likely be more concerned with what you are going to eat next not what you had last night. Will the fridge be able to do some sort of predictive analysis or will you have to spell out what you are going to need for dinner tomorrow night? By itself, a "smart fridge" is a needless expense. If it is going to be useful at all, it will have to tie into other systems - and who really wants to think of their home in those terms?

      Perhaps we will have all of the trappings of wealth through automation and technology - portrait artists painting our portraits (we all have cameras these days), sculptors capturing our likenesses (3D printing), chauffeur service (self driving cars), maid service (robot sweeping, vacuuming and mopping), lawn care (robot mowers), musicians and actors who will play for us whenever we want (recorded performances), personal tutors and trainers (all available via the internet). What's left? A cook? A butler?

      I'm not putting it down, especially as I am willing to take advantage of most of these myself. My concern is the question of what could go wrong.

      1. I ain't Spartacus Gold badge

        Re: What is needed is some sort of robot....

        but you will most likely be more concerned with what you are going to eat next not what you had last night. Will the fridge be able to do some sort of predictive analysis or will you have to spell out what you are going to need for dinner tomorrow night?

        Fridge: My programming says your mistress will be here tonight. I have ordered oysters and champagane as instructed.

        Me: Oh no! I'd forgotten! Mr Smithers the Managing Director is over for dinner tonight, and so my wife will be home in 5 minutes! What am I going to do?!?!

        Fridge: Quick! Washing machine, open up and hide the oysters and champagne in your drum.

        [doorbell rings, Wife and Mr Smithers both enter]

        Me: Oh Mr Smithers. How good to see you. Do take a seat. Please have a glass of red wine.

        Mr Smithers: Ooops! Butterfingers. I do apologise I appear to have spilled my wine on your tablecloth.

        Wife: Don't worry dear. I'll just get those in the washing machine now, so they don't stain.

        Me: Oh no dear!!! I'll do that!!

        [doorbell rings, Mistress enters]

        Me: Quick! Hide in the bathroom before Wife sees you.

        Wife: Husband! What are these oysters doing in the washing machine?!?

        [doorbell rings]

        Me; Oh no! It's the vicar!

        Wife: Oh! I have to hide. I owe the vicar £100 for the sponsored walk, and I haven't got it. I'll just go into the bathroom...

        1. TimeMaster T
          Pint

          Re: What is needed is some sort of robot....

          I think I saw that movie.

        2. stu 4

          Re: What is needed is some sort of robot....

          you could sell that script to the BBC for 'mrs browns boys' and every other derivative shite sitcom they have ever made. they'd probably pay you a fortune.

  8. Ben Norris

    Actually what is required is not difficult at all. RFID (already in a lot of packaging) says what, some simple scales say how much. Who is going to pay for this? With economies of scale it actually wouldn't be very expensive at all.

    1. I ain't Spartacus Gold badge

      There are many problems with this. Computers aren't actually intelligent. They can only know what they're programmed to know. And who can be arsed to train their fridge to manage their shopping. It'll take hours of training to get it even half good. Assuming good user interfaces. The fridges will not have good user interfaces, as they will be designed by the same people who brought you smart TVs and the kind of remote controls you get on cheap DVD players!

      Plus how are you scales going to work? Only one item per shelf? How will they survive the cold and the orange juice and soup spills? And children?

      1. Ben Norris

        The scale is built into the shelf and measures all items, you know which were taken because of the rfids. (Not dissimilar to self checkout) Most people have shopping lists already and stick to pretty predictable patterns.

        1. I ain't Spartacus Gold badge

          If the scale is built into the shelf, how will it cope with my dinner last night? I took out the butter, left-over ham from Sunday lunch, leftover roast peppers (from ditto), eggs, fruit juice and cheese. Only the butter, fruit juice and cheese went back in, as the ham and 2 eggs disappeared into the pot.

          How can it work out from all that change what's going on? As happens the cheese is dangerously low, so will need replenishing next shop.

          I was cooking. I was in a hurry, and hungry. I grabbed everything I needed in one go, it all went back in the fridge together quickly, when my carbonara was cooked - to minimise time between serving and eating. I don't want to faff with a scanner and touchscreen in either of those circumstances.

          I can see an online shopping tablet app working with RFID tags containing sell-by dates, plus past sales data, being able to help populate your shopping list. But to be honest, I don't see it being all that useful, because it would be so hard to train. None of the people I know eat the same 7 meals per week, and most of them buy what's on offer, or looks interesting, when they shop.

          So all we're really talking about is keeping up with staple foods. Of which my fridge contains ketchup, salad dressing (of varying types), condiments, cheese (again of various types depending on what I'll be doing with it and season), milk, fruit juice, limes, eggs and veg (of various types). In my store cupboard there's spices (hard to track as they're used in such small quantities), oils and sauces (worcestershire, soy etc.), which aren't easy to track. Then finally you've got things like baked beans, tinned tomatoes, potatoes, pasta, rice. Of which only the tins can be tracked without trouble.

          So for my fridge (and to be fair freezer) staples, this might save me 10-20 seconds a week. Out of the 30-60 seconds I spend before I go shopping, checking what I need. Well I'll pay £10 extra on a fridge for that, as long as it takes no more than 10 minutes to set up, and is likely to work, be easy to use, and not make the fridge more unreliable. That's not a compelling proposal.

          I'm thinking of going to online shopping. But that makes this even less attractive. As I'll be doing that on my iPad, in my kitchen. Where it is but the work of seconds to open the fridge door, and look.

          1. Matt Bryant Silver badge
            Happy

            Re: I ain't Spartacus

            I agree, it would be a problem to account for leftovers and people in a hurry, but not an insurmountable problem. All the tech is available today - RFID, bar codes, scanners, cameras, Internet shopping - the fact that no-one has bothered to put it into a consumer fridge yet is actually an indicator of how (a) the solution is probably not cost-effective when you look at the small benefit, and (b) the public are not worried enough about the problem of filling and monitoring the fridge manually to commit household funds to solving the problem. The tech is all there, what is not is the market.

  9. Anonymous Custard Silver badge

    Heath Robinson

    I wonder if it's coincidence that the BBC website today had quite a fun article on Heath Robinson (the UK equivalent of Rube Goldberg, for our colonial cousins)?

    If there was ever a modern-day equivalent of one of his contraptions, the IoT Fridge is certainly a prime candidate...

  10. Steve Davies 3 Silver badge

    At the risk of being a fuddy-duddy

    If I ever let my Fridge/Larder be connected like this (as well as wear white sneakers+ Beige Trousers/Top, go on a holiday where I have to wear a nametag all-day everyday) then the first person to see me has my permission to kill me there and then because obviously my life isn't worth living any longer.

    Anything that demands the use of NFC has No Frigging Chance with me either.

    Yeah, I am already a Grumpy old Git but there is still some life in me yet.

    1. I ain't Spartacus Gold badge

      Re: At the risk of being a fuddy-duddy

      I was on holiday in Barcelona. Walking down the street with friends, when we were approached by a company who organise parties. Well actually, they organise pub crawls.

      I could see 15 bars from the crossroads where I was standing. Goodness knows how many others there were. The day I need someone to organise a pub crawl under those circumstances, is the day I give up on life. Or the day I buy a fridge that writes my shopping list for me, even though I spend under a minute a week writing it.

  11. Vladimir Plouzhnikov

    There is very little doubt

    That this "Internet of Things" is a totally unnecessary solution in search of an as-yet-non-existing problem - at least as far as the consumers are concerned. That does not mean though that the industry will not go ahead and try to impose it on everyone anyway.

    There are only a few OEMs for most household equipment and all they need to do is to quietly reach an agreement that will make the internet connection mandatory (like they did with BD, for example).

    Once done, the extra cost of the "connectivity" will be absorbed by consumers, whether we like it or not, and will simply become part of the general inflation. And that is when the real problems will start.

    We will no longer own the equipment we "buy" - everything will remain under control of the manufacturer or the vendor. They will be able to "license" your fridge to you, you will be given an opportunity to "subscribe" to tomatoes from Tesco or eggs from Morrisons or get a "cooling extension pack" for loading in some beers in the summer. And if you don't pay your monthly fees, your fridge just won't let you open the door...

    1. I ain't Spartacus Gold badge

      Re: There is very little doubt

      Not while I still control my router they won't. How do they intend to get online? There's no mobile signal in my flat.

    2. Steve Knox
      Coat

      Re: There is very little doubt

      That this "Internet of Things" is a totally unnecessary solution in search of an as-yet-non-existing problem - at least as far as the consumers are concerned. That does not mean though that the industry will not go ahead and try to impose it on everyone anyway.

      What!? When has the industry ever pushed unnecessary crap on consumers?

      Now if you'll excuse me, I'm going to go use my voice-activated tablet to remotely control my 4k 120hz 3d TV with 7.1 surround sound...

      1. TheProf

        Re: There is very little doubt

        Your surround sound is only 7.1? Pth!

    3. T. F. M. Reader Silver badge
      Big Brother

      Re: There is very little doubt

      <<That this "Internet of Things" is a totally unnecessary solution in search of an as-yet-non-existing problem - at least as far as the consumers are concerned.>>

      It s not about the consumers' problems. The manufacturers will be thrilled to get together and agree to push only Internet-enabled household appliances emphasizing that, though they are a bit more expensive, your home and health insurance will be cheaper if you have full-on IoT. The insurance companies will monitor your consumption of everything at all times, and at some point down the road you will find that you are not covered because your family of four bought, put into the fridge, and took out (and thus presumably ate) 5% more processed read meat than the national average per person. Your car insurance will also go up because your fridge and your shelves figured out how many alcohol units you consumed every night (they'll know how many people were present at dinner, too), and whether or not your car was driven afterwards.

      The possibilities are endless, but consumers are not the ones to enjoy them.

  12. HippyFreetard

    Damnit, yes! I'm sick of hearing about stupid applications for cool tech.

    Massive shift in the way we do things coming up. Everything connected. What will you do?

    "Oh, I dunno. You could, er... something with a fridge?"

  13. Tanuki
    Thumb Down

    Tags?

    So, this "Smart Fridge" will expect me to attach a food-specific tag to the unused bits of the lettuce I plucked from the kitchen-garden, the fresh haunch of Venison acquired from a friend, the wedge of Stilton or the Gloucester-Old-Spots-and-Bramley-Apple Sausages from the farmer's market before I put them in the aforementioned sapient appliance?

    Sounds a hell of a lot of trouble to go to if you ask me.

    And even if said fridge were to become conscious of the fact that I'm running dangerously low on Cucumbers, how will it know whether there are any available in the market (whether for ready money or not)? I guess I'll just have to risk offending Lady Bracknell.

  14. Anonymous Coward
    Stop

    When does it send a message to the diet police

    to say that's the 2nd pork pie this week, you naughty boy!

  15. wolfetone Silver badge

    The Answer Is Under Our Noses

    The majority of people these days will shop at Tesco, Sainsbury's or ASDA*. Most of these have a loyalty card of somekind, except for ASDA, so we will remove these from the list. So let's focus on Tesco and Sainsbury's.

    Every month/6 weeks I will get a statement from Sainsbury's telling me where I got my Nectar points from. This comes from BP, Sainsbury's, eBay etc. Similar to the ClubCard statement, however you get a money off voucher and tokens giving you money off things you have bought previously or might like to try.

    Now it's evident from these statements that the supermarkets know what we buy in store. They know that in a month I will buy a 4 pack of Magners and a ring of black pudding, then a few months down the line I will get a 50p off voucher off a bottle of Magners or "equivelent" cider. (Sidenote: Bulmers in the UK is no equivelent to Magners, it tastes of piss). So somewhere there is a big database whereby my total transaction is broken down in to what items were bought and in what quantity.

    Back at the shop, their ordering system looks at this Database, and if it see me and 3 others buy a 4 pack of Magners they will think "goodness, there's a run on Magners. We will order more", and duly places the order at the distribution point. They get the order, whack it on the lorry, delivered on to the shelf. I then go back buy the product I effectively ordered a month ago by buying it in the first place.

    I hope now you can see where I'm going with this. Supermarkets record what we buy, but they also record what they order and stock, and (hopefully) best before dates. It isn't hard for a supermarket to work out when products are approching their best before date and for the spending/consuming habits of the shopper.

    We could, then, have a mobile app that links to our Nectar/Clubcard account that could then tell us what we have bought, when things go out of date etc. The user could then go through the list and check off what has been eaten/needs replacing as and when it's consumed. The app would do the work of alerting you to best before dates etc.

    So yeah, an app that works out what you need to buy against what you have bought against when it's gone rotten. This post is timestamped and copyright of either me or the Reg, but I'm willing to go 50/50 with anyone who profits from the idea that I've put out in the public domain.

    1. Elmer Phud

      Re: The Answer Is Under Our Noses

      But . . .

      I don't always shop at the same place or buy fuel from the same place each time.

      (rebel that I am)

      1. BongoJoe

        Re: The Answer Is Under Our Noses

        Give me a proper greengrocer and a nine fingered butcher any day.

    2. The Man Himself Silver badge
      Boffin

      Re: The Answer Is Under Our Noses

      There was an interesting video on the VSauce channel on YouTube a while ago which briefly discussed supermarkets' analysis of buying patterns. It went something along the lines of....

      Guy gets his monthly pack of discount vouchers from the store, and this time around it includes coupons for things like nappies (diapers, for our transatlantic chums) for no apparent reason.

      It then transpired that there'd been purchases against that store loyalty card for things like unperfumed soap (instead of the normal scented variety) and a few other things. The big number crunching computer at the supermarket recognised that as a trend common to newly-expectant mothers, and so assumed that it was time to start offering them attractively-priced baby goods.

      Then his teenage daughter had to 'fess up that she was in Le Club de Pudding.

  16. SmallYellowFuzzyDuck, how pweety!
    Coat

    The future is soon

    "The intelligent fridge, available for delivery via flying car, please inform us if you are out due to you being on holiday on the moon"...

  17. Bad Fish
    FAIL

    Java smart appliance

    If I remember correctly, the first proposed use of Java was supposed to be smart washing machines that would email the service centre when they needed repair. Nobody ever explained how the email would get sent when the machine was broken.

  18. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    How does it know it's empty ?

    Easiest way is to have a weight sensing pad in a dedicated compartment .

    1 2 3 .. problem solved.

  19. Waspy

    Falling costs anyone?

    this is what i like about the Reg - no nonsense. however, at the risk of being downvoted out of existence, i think part of the predictions involve falling costs of chips/hardware etc. barcodes are on the cusp of being replaced by rfid tags (still waiting for that pricepoint to come, but it is coming). from there it isn't too hard to imagine the frisge being able to know what is in it...one decades waste of expensive equipment is another's disposable packaging.

    1. Richard 12 Silver badge

      Re: Falling costs anyone?

      RFID tags will always cost significantly more than barcodes.

      Barcodes on packaged goods cost exactly zero pence per unit, as you're printing the packaging anyway and they only need one colour.

      The two things an RFID can give you that a barcode doesn't are the ability to read without line-of-sight, and the ability to write.

      Requiring line-of-sight is not expensive, and for a sell-once product, the ability to write to the tag is meaningless.

      If you have expensive goods, RFID makes good sense, because you can spot the goods leaving the store. If you hire them out several times, even better - eg my local library does that with the books.

      So the only useful bonus of RFID is the idea of a shop where you walk in, grab the things you need and walk straight out and get automatically billed.

      In practice, this wouldn't save enough money to be cost effective for the kind of tiny-margin, low-cost goods you get from the staple-foods section of a supermarket.

  20. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    I think this is a problem that can only be solved by...

    ...Lily Cole

    Perhaps in partnership with Stephen Fry.

    Quick, get NESTA on the line.

  21. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Why not have a smart bin instead? Learns what you throw away and when - tie that up with your grocery provider's delivery info and it should be possible to work out how regularly you need to order new supplies. No need for weighing, just an algorithm to predict when you'll run out & the option to override if you've got plans or changes to domestic circumstances that mean the system can't predict your needs.

    There's probably some scheme for minimising unnecessary packaging in there too.

    1. The Man Himself Silver badge

      throwing away

      Sorry if I've missed the logic here, but if I've thrown something away, why would I want another.

      If I've tried the lastet new-and-improved food product, hated the taste and thrown it in the bin, I'd be a bit miffed if Gricery Fairy took it upon itself to get me another in the next load of shopping

    2. BongoJoe

      Not everything that is finished with gets tossed into the bin. Fruit and veg, for example, ends up in the compost. The bacon gets eaten entirely, as does the beef.

      Plus I may lob things into the bin that I don't buy such as makerel and other fish. And, besides, how I am going to expect to have a bar code on a scrumped brown trout or pheasant?

      A lot of people who don't live in cling film wrapped land tend to buy, or obtain, their food in less packaging then their town dwelling equivilents.

  22. Elmer Phud

    Big shop/small shop

    Milk is getting low.

    I can wait until a big shop but that could mean none left for tomorrows first cuppa.

    If I go to the corner shop now instead will the fridge rat on me to Tesco?

  23. I ain't Spartacus Gold badge
    Stop

    Why are you filling the air with cheap perfume?

    You like scented air. It's fresh and invigorating. Share and enjoy!

  24. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Too complicated

    It would be simpler and cheaper to hire a servant for a couple of hours a week.

    1. Mark Allen
      Flame

      Re: Too complicated

      Totally agree with this one - employ a human.

      * Less hassle to run.

      * Will interact with far wider range of different products.

      * Takes voice commands - both local (shout) and remote (phone).

      * No special tags needed on the products.

      * Has special sensors like "smell" available to tell when the milk is off.

      * Will handle Asda and the Farmer's Market to the same quality level.

      * Knows when nipping to local shop for a pint of milk it more sensible than ordering online to be delivered by diesel burning lorry.

      * Can handle cupboards as well as fridge.

      * Will be multi-tasking so can actually cook the food for you as well instead of needing to buy a special Cooker, Bin, Sink, Plate.

      * Will not become obsolete (see Smart TV features)

      * Will not burn lots of excess electricity. In fact, will still operate during a power cut.

      * Will not have advertising screens plastered over the front telling you what to buy.

      List could go on an on... technology is not always the answer. Look at our "Smart TVs". Now, I like my Smart TV. I use features like iPlayer, YouTube, DLNA, etc. But there are umpteen gazillion extra "features" and "apps" that are just clutter and of no use. And even the apps I do use get "upgraded" and loose features (I'm looking at you iPlayer - where did my radio go?)

      My last fridge lasted 20 years. How long will a Smart Fridge last before I have to replace it with something new? We spend our time talking about "saving the planet" and "going green" yet we are making more and more pointless tech for the sake of making pointless tech to burn up resources.

  25. IOS050I
    Pint

    Not so dumb.. cost point is the question.

    Like any electrical device, there is lots of diagnostic information in the controller, that can't easily be communicated, and lots more that would be useful to add if only the controller could communicate with the owner.. all without sniffing the milk or replacing the paper shopping list with an expensive tablet:

    o defrost cycles

    o diagnostic info on the pump, compressor, water-filter (if it has one), host-zones

    o raising alarm if door not properly closed/blocked

    o decay chemical detection for rotting food for cleaning cycles

    o smart boost: don't take a Phd to work out that loading 10kg of stuff into a fridge will need a boost

    Granted, an IoT fridge is a lot less useful than an IoT boiler (carbon monoxide), but the benefits accrue when you combine simple sensors with electronic shopping (beer does not generally come in four litre bottles, but milk does) - think scales in self checkout.

    A fridge that pings you to get more beer because you're running low on a world-cup night will easily outsell 3DTV.

    1. Vladimir Plouzhnikov

      Re: Not so dumb.. cost point is the question.

      I can't help but notice that none of the points you mention actually require internet connectivity. All can be done "offline" an it fact they are only needed when there are humans around (like the door alarm etc)...

  26. KirstarK

    of course what will happen is that there will be an rfid in the milk. The smart fridge will monitor how often the milk is taken out of the fridge and when it never return. Over time it will build up a profile of your use and can then "suggest" what you should order and when. This data of course will be mined and abused. I would also expect the fridge to get grumpy if you try to reuse a carton and alert you that your milk must be off. better throw it out. But to be safe will alert you early. If this means you waste milk then all the better for the farmers.

    Whats this says gov agency. Our data mining say that this fridge has no bacon in it and is infact full of halal products. They must be terrorist. Look their milk is out of date.

  27. RISC OS

    Unless you one of those lard arses

    on the otherside of the pond who feel the need to put eggs, potatoes, tomatoes etc in the fridge and thus have a fridge the size of a small room in a european flat, and you don't know what you need to buy... you either don't eat in very often or are so rich you have a cook who does the shopping for you.

    I have a device that tells me what I need, it's called a jotter pad. It's amazing - you take one of these new fangled things called pencils and just write on the jotter pad what you need for your next meal, or what has just been used up... it uses no electricity, doesn't require an internet connection (although for marketing puposes, it could claim to be wireless), and is always on without reporting to GCHQ / The NSA.

    1. Tom 7 Silver badge

      Re: Unless you one of those lard arses

      Its also a lot of money for a fraction of purchasing. How much of your food actually goes through your fridge? For me its about 10%. And I can tell when I'm about to run out of regular items cos they are regular so I dont need a fridge to nag me - and the remaining items will be either seasonal or bought on a whim so wont be repeated.

      This is a solution looking for a problem and this is not the problem. Getting rid of my lard arse is though!

    2. JEDIDIAH
      Devil

      Re: Unless you one of those lard arses

      ...it's even worse than that.

      Not only do we have a fridge the size of a small European apartment but some of us even have separate freezers for dealing with seasonal items.

  28. Boris the Cockroach Silver badge
    Devil

    Well

    I'm already preparing the fridge malware, especially it will end up running on an unloved useless OS like say windows 8 for example (M$ being really really desperate to shift it)

    Some nice sauce code that reads:

    If (FRIDGELIGHT==ON)

    run COOLIINGPUMP();

    else INTERNAL_TEMP==45C

    and laugh as everyone gets food poisoning.

    Mind you, what happens when you put 1/2 a curry in the fridge to eat the next day? does it go PHONE(Curry_House).Order(Vindaloo) or something when you take it out?

  29. Frumious Bandersnatch Silver badge

    what is needed ...

    is some kind of fridge Shiva (or Ganesh). The key point is lots of arms for holding things. This would know what things are approaching their use-by date and would thrust it out at you as soon as you open the door. If you're really slow about getting to use things, it could start banging on the inside of fridge door to attract your attention. You'd soon get used to this disconcerting noise and any guests you have over who become alarmed can have their fears assuaged with a simple: "ignore it; it's just the fridge Shiva."

    You might be tempted to give the fridge Shiva some other tasks, such as scrambling eggs or mixing ingredients for a cake. However, this would clearly be sacrilegious and should not be attempted under any circumstances.

    1. I ain't Spartacus Gold badge

      Re: what is needed ...

      I'm sold! How much do I owe you for mine?

      1. Frumious Bandersnatch Silver badge

        Re: what is needed ...

        I'm sold! How much do I owe you for mine?

        Only your Atman. Mwhuhaha

        1. I ain't Spartacus Gold badge
          Devil

          Re: what is needed ...

          Only your Atman. Mwhuhaha

          You're welcome to whatever you can find. Do you think I'd be posting on El Reg if I had one of those?

  30. Sharrow

    Is this post really a recruitment filter?

    I love all the posts that clearly identify the poster as someone who knows very little about some of the technology involved (or indeed any technology) but hasn't let that stop them coming up with a whizzer 'solution'.

    I had no idea so many business analysts and project managers read the Reg.

  31. Natalie Gritpants

    Nice attempt by some commentards

    to figure out how to do it with cameras and shelf weight sensors. How do you cope with this? I take the 4 pint milk out to pour on my breakfast, close the door, slosh my weetabix and milk my coffee, turn on the microwave and then put the milk back in the fridge. Sometimes I forget to put the milk back until after eating. Have I just ordered another 4 pints of milk?

  32. John 156

    What really is the point of this article? Quite clearly the idea that fridges would become smart is based on the fact that people like David Cameron imagine that the Internet of Things refers to the white stuff in the John Lewis basement, they having imagined presumably that apart from computers and fridges, everything else works by magic.

  33. newspuppy

    The Incredibly Disruptive Internet of Things.... or The I.D.I.o.T... Fridge.

    The fridge as envisioned is a problem. Unless we have a cooking robot that can keep track of what we are doing with our inventory we shall simply have an Incredibly Disruptive Internet of Things Fridge.

    or an I.D.I.o.T........ Fridge.....

  34. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Or...

    Why not employ someone to check your fridge contents and work out what you need and then they can order it for you online. Still would be cheaper than smart fridges and smart packaging.

    Failing that can anyone tell me what is wrong with me looking in the fridge when I'm getting the spread out for my morning toast and putting the milk back from making the coffee and working out that I need more of both, along with a couple more bottles of white wine, and make a mental note to pick them up at the shop on the way home.

    Like so many things this is a solution looking for a problem.

  35. Mark 85 Silver badge
    Meh

    If you're too dumb to know what's in the refrigerator

    and thus, the refrigerator is smarter than you, you're in big trouble. And will it tell us when we have too much beer and not enough milk? Notify the proper authorities if we consume all the beer and then take the car keys off the hook? What kind of batcrap crazy will it go if we empty it out to clean it?

    Then again, this is the time of the FB society and iThings... Scary what we as a civilization are turning into.

  36. bill 36
    Coat

    CooooooLLL

    Only kidding :>)

  37. arrbee

    I think you're all being unambitious.

    What is needed is a per-dwelling system which tracks every item once it has entered the house/flat/yurt until it leaves, including in/out fridge, into bin, etc. Of course for the best results, and to handle flat shares (*), you'd also need to tag all the people in the house, and any animals, in order to properly track (and then predict) consumption patterns.

    (*) excluding student flat shares, lets not be silly about this

  38. Adam Foxton

    Why the fridge?

    I can see the novelty of a smart beer keg that indicates pressure, flow rate, purity/quality of beer, that sort of thing. Or if you're a commercial concern, having a machine monitor your food levels, have the kitchen prioritise certain things in the run up to lunchtime, dump the old stuff, etc could be useful.

    The only use a Smart Fridge as described could have would be as a test bed for some pretty snazzy AI. That's the level of understanding required to manage a fridge autonomously without having the world retag every individual freakin' carrot just for you.

  39. Andrew Davenport

    My Idea

    How about stopping thrusting unneeded technology on the masses and just take a look, make a list and go shopping, like our forebears have been doing for centuries. Get this, you need 1 pen and 1 piece of scrap paper!!

    Smart fridge = dumbass human.

    No wonder the world average IQ is sinking, we as a species no longer need to think any more.

    But to be honest, how many things do we have now that have been sold as "convenience" which are now being abused to commit fraud, crime, stealing of information etc etc.

    The more we subscribe to this nonsense the more vulnerable our private lives and data will be to the prying eyes of those who wish to sell us more unwanted garbage.

  40. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Another El Reg author being an ass

    It's fairly fucking obvious how the concept of a smart-fridge would work you fud, and is evident in many high-end hotels.

    The fridge has weight measuring compartments, perhaps identified beforehand as 'milk, 'cheese', 'eggs', etc and as the weight decreases, it triggers an alarm notification at a set weight that you need more.

    Currently some hotels use the same for automatic billing of items taking from the mini-bars.

    Really, this 'journo' needs to get some objectivity about their writing, I mean ranting.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Another commentard being an ass

      It's even more f****** obvious that a hotel minibar fridge which stocks only prescribed items which are consumed in a binary fashion (purchased or not - or rather "billable" or not - a subtle difference but one which makes the problem domain far simpler) as opposed to needing to track continuing, partial consumption of individual items, and which is stocked by staff according to a strict set of rules about placement of items to ensure correct tracking, is a fundamentally different problem domain than a general purpose domestic appliance the contents and use of which cannot be prescribed to the consumer by anyone.

      There are countless real world scenarios which demonstrate how the problem of the "smart fridge" cannot be solved. Yet you offer a solution to a superficially similar but actually fundamentally different problem as your "proof" that it is, after all, solvable ?

      What next ? Inferring "Proof" that there is life on Mars because there is life in the Sahara because it's f****** obvious that both are deserts ?

      Really, some commentards need to get some intelligence before commenting, I mean parading their inability to grasp the fundamentals of something which they utterly fail to grasp.

  41. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Weight measuremant

    People are suggesting scales for weight, but you could use infrared cameras to see through most packaging. The empty air above the milk/ketchup would be warmer than the liquid below. Couple this with the images from the cameras and I bet you could pretty accurately work out the container capacity and current volume given most mass produced containers are somewhat symmetrical.

    Combine this with the barcode you can see with the camera and you know the product. This doesn't work for home made dishes, but it could tell you that you have 'approx 300ml of unidentified product within a 1l container'. I guess then you could put RFID inside your tupperware if you absolutley HAVE to use RFID.

    EDIT: You could also face track and recognise the person who took the last sausage.

  42. 4ecks

    How about this, keep your current fridge :-

    ASDA already have a record of what you bought - the unique till receipt no. links to a list that itemises your purchases, you can even use this yourself for their price guarantee, and I suppose other retailers must have the same data capabilities for their own stock control purposes, we just need access to this data ourselves.

    Most supermarket produce has a barcode/qr/rfid tag.

    I propose a standalone tablet style display-multiscanner (bar+qr+rfid+scales+imaging camera) that you can quickly book-in stock by entering the till receipt id, the shop has already scanned the items anyway.

    Also, the ability to :-

    1) enter items bought elsewhere by either scanning in or manually entering them by text or image.

    2) define a storage location i.e storecupboard, fridge, freezer etc. (when I buy butter 1 goes in the fridge, the rest go in the freezer, same with bread).

    3) set a re-order preference for a particular brand or generic/own brand i.e Fairy or any washing-up liquid.

    4) record/set a date of entry - can be used to alert expiry date/age of produce.

    On usage the items can be easily scanned or weighed to deduct them from the stock inventory, allowing for either unit or partial pack deduction i.e. 1 apple, 1 box of dishwasher salt, 87g frozen of peas from a 1kg bag, or 2 OXO cubes from a box of 12.

    If you can set max/min & over time the mean stock levels for items then eventually you should be able to predict daily, weekly and monthly shopping lists, as well as getting reminders that you might want to transfer butter from the freezer to the fridge so it's defrosted before the current pack runs out, and that you've still got that tin of chickpeas in the cupboard from 5 years ago (do not re-order flag set!) :)

    For an IoT angle, the ability to link to a price comparison site could give you a preferred supplier & estimated budget planner, with the ability to generate a tailored shopping list that could be placed for collection or delivery if required. You could even have a meal planner and get the system to suggest ideas based on the available ingredients, it could even calorie count your meals.

    Shouldn't be too difficult to use current information processing & hardware technology to put this in a domestic setting at the sub-£100 mark, at the end of the day it's really just an epos type till entry system without the cash handling and small database stock management system, you could even have some of it "in the cloud", I'm sure that Google or Facebook etc. would love to have more information about you.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: How about this, keep your current fridge :-

      Someone probably has a patent on that

  43. Richard Read

    Reuse of containers?

    To everyone who thinks this can be sorted out with rfid or barcode scanners or cameras what about people who reuse containers? For example I reuse milk bottles to hold squash, I reuse some ready meal containers to hold leftovers - you get the picture.

    How would the fridge know that the bottle with a milk rfid tag actually contains orange squash?

    Lets not even go there with telling the difference between the various types of loose fruit. Bananas and plantains?

  44. Jim84

    The problem is remembering what is missing at the supermarket, and having to go to the supermarket

    You are right that the fridge won't be able to identify a half full carton of milk.

    What could be done though is to stick a touchscreen on the front of the fridge that has a grid of all the fridge items on it. When milk is running low you just tap the milk icon on the front and it is added to your shopping list. If you click order now all the items on the shopping list are ordered online and delivered via Amazon Drone or Google's self driving delivery vans within 30-60 minutes.

    All that is required is a cheap bar code scanner (or camera).

    Yes you could probably do this on a tablet, but then you'd have to grab that and set it up. Far easier if the fridge just has this functionality built in. You can use your smartphone or tablet to change channels on yor TV, but I don't think anyone has switched from the remote yet.

  45. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Non-Problems

    My prof at university (decades ago...) already rambled about this type of misinterpreting new technologies. He argued that robot-vision was not needed because in a robotic environment any robot would instantly know where the previous robot placed something, only when humans get involved do things get messy... Same with your fridge in an IoT fridge there likely is a fixed place for your milk carton with a weight sensor. When the milk nearly runs out (or gets close to the use by date...) the fridge will order a replacement from the shop (since you pre-set the expected stock level and it can check your credit card overdraft) and the robotic arm will replace the empty carton and hook it up to the milk dispenser in your coffee machine. (The tv-series Absolutely Fabulous already had a fridge that restocked the champagne...and Charley Chaplin already had all the mechanization to get out of bed sorted..)

  46. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    You may call me a luddite but

    a fridge can be smart enough to see there's no more milk left inside but it has no chance in hell to know if I want it to order some more or what variety of milk I might want to try this time. Smart fridge proponents must be nuts if they expect me to fight to prevent my fridge from ordering milk when I don't want milk or keep drinking the same milk on and on for every single day of my life.

    1. Vladimir Plouzhnikov

      Re: You may call me a luddite but

      The thing is that if these "smart" appliances will become widespread (and they might, thanks to those members of the population who are easily seduced by marketing speak and are incapable of assessing the relative values of what they gain against what they loose from surrendering control over yet another part of their lives) - there will be just one kind of milk available on your fridge-as-a-service subscription pack, so you won't be able to choose even if you wanted to.

  47. John Tserkezis

    We don't need no stinking Internet of Things fridges.

    There could be ten people in the house, but only one will actually buy that new carton of milk. Nine faithfully return the empty carton into it's place in the fridge. The tenth person will try to pour the empty carton, curse, and put it on their shopping list - because none of the other nine will do that. Tenth person goes shopping, buys new full carton of milk, returns, and places new carton into its designated spot in the fridge. Nine others resume consuming contents until empty, and the process starts all over again.

    No amount of technology telling those nine how much is left, is going to help. It's not their job. No amount of technology automagically ordering more milk is going to help. That auto-order technology is well established - remember the milk man bringing a bottle every morning? Was there any feedback required there? Nope, and it still worked well.

    If you want to REALLY impress me, try creating a chip that can be inserted into people's heads that actions that empty carton, or gets teenagers to take less than six hours to get ready every bloody morning, or that phone repair guy to turn up in the same century they said they would, or a remote control mute button for your mother in law. To hell with your Internet of Things, I want something useful.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: We don't need no stinking Internet of Things fridges.

      If nine people don't recognize the need to get more milk, make them wait. For a while, just buy milk by the pint, use it all up as you go so that there's nothing left for anyone else. After a few days, someone's going to ask where's the milk, and you can reply, "Who forgot to throw out the carton and buy a new one when it ran out?" If everyone points fingers, simply say whoever empties the carton has the honours: no exceptions. If they don't like it, tell them the family's going vegan and there'll be no more milk in the house.

      If somone's taking too long, put them on the clock. Time runs out, they lose.

      As for the phone repair guy, have you tried going up the chain every time the phone guy's late? Or are you telling me even the highest levels of the phone company are in on it and that you can't post a complaint about it to the news or whatever?

  48. DougS Silver badge

    Acme Dairy products

    <begin fine print on label>

    Acme Dairy milk supports fridges from Amana, GE, and LG.

    <end fine print on label>

    <begin fine print on label>

    Moocow Dairy milk supports fridges from Frigigaire, Samsung and Whirlpool.

    <end fine print on label>

    1. Refugee from Windows
      Coat

      Re: Acme Dairy products

      Microsourcing. We put the packaging machine straight after the pasteuriser, it prints a 2D barcode which can identify which cow made the milk and when. Not that it would be any much use to anybody really.

      It's all possible, but I just can't see the point.

      Coat, it's time to go and milk the ladies again.

  49. Number6

    It could guess - if everything had an RFID tag (cheap), it could detect that you've removed the milk from the fridge, and load cells on the shelf will detect the change in weight based on the removal of the item.

    It's safer than a fridge that is too smart - imagine something going mouldy at the back of the fridge - you remove it and the fridge detects that you're now out of evil green mould and orders more.

  50. Chairo
    Pint

    I don't understand why bothering with fractions of items

    If the beer can is in the fridge, the can is full. Per definition there are no half filled beer cans in the fridge. If there are no cans left, the fridge is obviously empty and needs urgent refilling.

    People who put other stuff than beer cans into their fridge will probably not buy smart fridges, so all other items and states are irrelevant.

    Once the can is taken out of the fridge, the beer should be put into a cold glass. That's where the freezer part is required.

  51. This post has been deleted by its author

  52. Truth4u

    In the UK we solved this problem a hundred years ago

    by putting milk in see-through containers.

    Seriously, if Americans were so smart, maybe they could just try that????

  53. Ron Christian

    how does it know the carton is empty?

    Modeling from usage history, of course. This is not rocket science. As you finish the milk and the fridge sees the carton replaced with another carton, it develops over time statistics on how long it takes you to use up a carton of milk. It uses this information to plan ahead and let you know when you're likely to need more. The more data points, the more accurate the prediction. The system over time asymptotically approaches some acceptable degree of accuracy.

    How does the fridge notice that the carton has been replaced? The hot setup would be a unique barcode or rfid on each item, but probably what'll happen is that you'll need to tell the fridge (via touch panel) that this carton is being thrown out because (a) it's spoiled, (b) it's empty, or (c) I don't like this product, and the smart fridge would take this into account when creating your shopping list.

  54. Matt Bryant Silver badge
    Boffin

    Probable solution - a smart fridge and a dumb fridge in one.

    No, seriously, that's not as unlikely as you think. If you wander into a lot of offices to day you will see carousel vending machines, where each slot on the carousel holds a single item - a snack bar or sandwich or canned drink, for example. They are often refrigerated. Now, some of them are intelligent enough already that the owner can program in what food goes in what slots, and as the food is bought the system updates a 'shopping list' which gets sent to the owner/stockist when a top-up is required. For our super smart home version, you could have a carousel for the unit items that get replaced when one unit is used, a set of scale-equipped slots for gradually consumed items like milk or OJ, probably in the door, and a simple set of shelves at the top for odds and left-overs. The 'shopping list' gets emailed regularly to the store which only sends the unit items you require, plus you can shop online for non-standard items. All possible with today's tech and not too pricey to build either, though probably expensive enough compared to a normal fridge to limit the market.

    1. Charles 9 Silver badge

      Re: Probable solution - a smart fridge and a dumb fridge in one.

      There's also the issues of (1) having big (milk jugs) and small (butter carton) items together in the same carousel, wasting space, not to mention (2) the need to get more than one item at once in a hurry.

  55. razorfishsl

    Simple……

    RFID tag on bottom of carton with piezo strain gauge, applying a known frequency will be shifted by the amount of distortion in the piezo tag.

    But the reality is that the fridges will only be used to 'brand profile' the owner, which products do you buy, how frequently do you take them out of the fridge.

    When do you throw them away…… do you buy them again?

    A sad excuse to allow marketing scum invade your privacy under the guise of doing you a favour,

    the sad fact is that if this were the government, then there would already be torch & pitchfork wielding mobs marching on Parliament, funny what people will accept when they are not 'forced' to do it.

This topic is closed for new posts.

Biting the hand that feeds IT © 1998–2019