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Refrigerators

Can your smart refrigerator organize your groceries?

Bosch, LG and Samsung are trying …

Graphic of a hand interacting with a smart refrigerator's touch screen. Credit: Getty Images / adventtr

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At CES 2020, large appliance brands like LG and Samsung made announcements that their new refrigerators would have AI-powered inventory tracking.

While details were scarce at the time, the claims were that this technology would leverage internal cameras to scan barcodes or use image recognition software to automatically add items to a digital fridge inventory as you added them to the fridge.

In LG’s video, for example, a spokesperson adds an eggplant to the fridge, closes the door, and pulls up the food inventory manager to see that it has automatically added the eggplant as a line item, along with a time-stamp so you can easily track how long it’s been in the fridge.

It’s been over two years since these announcements, and other companies like Bosch have also announced their own partnerships with refrigerator inventory management software, so we wanted to quickly check-in with these technologies to see how they’ve evolved over time.

(Spoiler alert: Many things were promised that have not yet come to fruition.)

Samsung’s SmartThings Cooking

A list of home recipes.
Credit: Samsung

SmartThings will recommend recipes based on your personal preferences, but doesn’t automatically scan your food.

Despite Samsung’s initial vision for the technology, the brand seems to have altered course. Initially, it acquired Whisk, a food inventory and meal planning app. This meal-planning app allows you to manually enter in what food you currently have on hand, search and save recipes, and re-order food that’s low in stock.

Presently, Samsung seems to be going with SmartThings Cooking, which lets you easily re-order items from services like Amazon Fresh.

There’s no news on if or when the food-recognition technology will be implemented.

LG’s ThinQ provides some promised features, but not others

An LG smart fridge with groceries inside.
Credit: Matthew Zahnzinger

While some of LG’s newer tech is interesting, it’s not what was promised.

While LG had a full demonstration of the technology in 2020, the brand seems to have backed away from a lot of its promises since.

While the InstaView technology does employ cameras to let you see what’s inside the fridge without opening it, it is currently unable to scan items or barcodes to automatically update a food inventory as seen in the demo.

The only mention we could find of AI-based tech on LG fridges was the Smart Learner diagnostics system, which analyzes your refrigerator use to anticipate temperature, ice, and energy needs.

LG has implemented some barcode-scanning tech, it just isn’t in the refrigerators: You can scan the barcode of certain frozen meals to send cooking instructions to your smart oven.

Bosch partners with Chefling

A kitchen with smart functionalities.
Credit: Bosch

Bosch skipped over the aspirational demonstration and went straight to delivering the goods.

Bosch has taken a slightly different approach to implementing a fridge inventory management system, complete with a shortcut around the fancy demonstrations to get straight to the third-party partnership—in retrospect, Bosch’s decision to skip the “over-promising demo” seems like a smart idea.

Chefling allows users to manually track their own fridge inventory, suggests recipes, and allows for the easy ordering of items.

The app is straightforward, and works like a user-friendly spreadsheet. Once you have the contents of your fridge uploaded, you can filter through the site’s huge database of recipes based on what you actually have in stock, letting you use up your perishables before they perish. You can also set up meal plans for the week, and easily order any items you’re out of.

Any Bosch fridge that comes equipped with the Home Connect smart platform, such as the Bosch B36CD50SNS, can take advantage of Chefling.

The state of inventory management at the moment

While a lot has been promised by these brands, we have yet to see any of the amazing new inventory management technology actually materialize. The way forward—at this point, at least—seems to be going with third-party apps that allow for much of the same functionality, only without the automatic food recognition part.

While we’re not holding our breath for this kind of technology to come to fruition, due mainly to several manufacturers seemingly backing away from their initial claims, it is possible a similar feature will make its way into the fridges of the future.

For the time being, our own intelligence has scanned for and failed to find anything even remotely resembling what we've been promised.

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