The advances of the next 12 years are likely to be more amazing and unpredictable than those of the past 12. In the world of home appliances—a world not usually associated with the most breathtaking innovation—the advances may be more stark than they’ve been in decades. And now, GE is offering a glimpse of that future—specifically, a vision of the year 2025.
You have to be a little skeptical whenever a major manufacturer publishes a bunch of predictions for the future, as they’re likely to do everything they can to appear more innovative than their competitors. That said, GE’s Home of 2025 project depicts a future that is automated, interconnected, practical, and likely only available to the very wealthy.
“To project what the Home of 2025 may look like, we first took a high level look at where we think society, culture, and technology is taking us and intersected that with ways in which we could make our lives less complex and more enjoyable," said Lou Lenzi, director for GE Appliances’ Industrial Design Operation, in a press release. "We conceptualized how we will prepare meals, wash clothes, and interact with information as families over the next dozen years."
The biggest trend coursing through GE’s home of the future is integration. Appliances are no longer standalone devices, but rather a series of interconnected nodes capable of multiple different tasks. For example, GE claims that the laundry machines of 2025 will not only wash and dry your clothes, but also automatically store them in virtual closets, “revive” them for use, and compress them for travel.
Much of GE’s vision stems from the use of “smart” technology. An important trend with a vapid name, smart appliances refer most narrowly to washing machines, refrigerators, dishwashers, and other devices that sync with your utilities to optimize energy consumption. More broadly, it refers to appliances that can automate or even intuit the “input” tasks associated with operating an appliance, such as knowing how much milk is in your fridge, or when your dishes are completely cleaned.
GE has imagined a future kitchen with a complex inventory management system that automatically orders food when needed. Going even further, the company predicts refrigeration units installed outside of your home, removing the need for homeowners to be present for deliveries.
Other predictions include robotic beehives that can pollinate your indoor plants, providing an indoor source of food, and appliances that read users' biometric information and dispense proper medication amounts.
All this sounds nice... perhaps too nice. Perusing the story on GE’s website (which is worth a look), we couldn’t help think of a story published in the Ladies’ Home Journal in 1900, which predicted the removal of the letters “C,” “Q,” and “X” from the alphabet, peas the size of beets, and the complete eradication of mosquitos.
Granted, LHJ was predicting a future 100 years hence, whereas GE’s focus is just a dozen years from now. Whether consciously or not (stirring excitement is the best marketing tactic), GE glossed over some serious considerations, the most important of which is money. The above appliances may indeed grace homes in 2025, but don’t expert the typical middle-class American home to be one of them.
It’s also important to think about markets. Many of these ideas seem more likely to catch on in Europe or Asia, where appliances hold greater cultural significance, mainly due to denser populations and smaller kitchens. Americans tend to like their appliances out of sight and out of mind, while Europeans see them as part of an organic, domestic whole. This contrasting attitude may limit commercialization of the products described in GE's Home 2025 project.
You can’t knock GE for publishing ideas about the future, but it’s important to keep expectations in check. The annual Design labs competition hosted by Electrolux may be even more fanciful in its vision, but it’s nonetheless fascinating. A brief look at our coverage from this year’s IFA conference also highlights some of the trends in appliance innovation, albeit with a more pragmatic lens.