The new Bosch fridge with camera.
Image courtesy of Bosch

Think baking, not break ins .

By Stacey Higginbotham
September 8, 2015

Makers of cameras and image sensors are already salivating at the potential market opportunity that is the connected home. Consumers are adding connected cameras to baby monitors and living rooms in droves. But I’d argue that consumers are putting their cameras in the wrong place. The best place for connected camera isn’t where it can monitor your house, it’s where it can monitor your food.

The combination of better computer vision and connected appliances means that popping a camera inside your fridge or your oven means that homeowners can finally let an app assemble their grocery list or suggest a recipe, or even let your oven decide when your chicken is roasted to perfection. For harried home chefs, this may be far more valuable than being able to check in and make sure the dog is not laying on your sofa.

At the IFA trade show in Berlin, which is focused on consumer electronic devices, appliance makers were showing off cameras inside refrigerators that give the buyer a glimpse inside the icebox when they are away. If you aren’t sure if you’ve got enough milk to last the week when you’re near the grocery store, you can pull up the feed from your fridge and see. Today, Bosch has a fridge that snaps a picture every time the door closes and let’s you pull up a feed on an app to see what’s inside. Yes, this requires you to place your frequently purchased perishables within the camera’s line of sight, but that camera could become much more useful in the coming years.

To see a possible future, check out the June oven, which launched earlier this year. The June is a high-tech, connected oven that has a camera inside that is connected to a computer that has the same high-powered processors as a game console. Instead of playing video games, the graphics processor is running machine learning algorithms based on the images provided by the oven’s camera. The computer identifies what food you’ve placed in the oven and whether it is cooked properly. And yes, you can also use the camera to check in on the food without open the oven door and letting the heat out.

Inside the fridge, computer vision could identify your food, and if the container is clear, tell when it needs replacing. From there, it’s not hard to automatically add an item to a grocery list on Evernote or another service using an application programming interface (API). In many cases, we’d need a new style of packaging that let’s the camera “see” the contents in order to be able to handle the re-ordering automatically. There are currently a few products that will let consumers place their food in special containers that will communicate when they need to add an item to their grocery list, but most of these are silly gimmicks such as the Quirky Egg Minder.

However, computer vision and strategically placed cameras can do a lot to help consumers track what’s happening in their kitchen, both as they plan their grocery shopping on the go, but also as they cook their food. And my hunch is that as homeowners and appliance makers recognize this, we’re going to see a wave of hardened camera designs that will fit inside next-generation appliances.

For more on the future of AI check out this Fortune video:

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