Will future home appliances achieve autonomy?

Image credit: Green Tech Advocates
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Just before sitting down to write this, I was reading an article by Hans Hoorweg regarding the next generation of dishwashers.  You could change “dishwasher” to almost any appliance and produce the same result.  As I meander down the appliance aisles in retail, I am starting to see how technologically advanced our home electronics are becoming.

Whether temperature regulation is getting smarter, the addition of Bluetooth, more intuitive readouts, or manufacturers are making standard features that were once part of widgets that you’d see on 2AM infomericals, it’s inevitable that the future of home electronics is both autonomy and more automation of simple tasks.  Personally, I’m waiting to see a voice-assistant system added to these appliances.

Allow appliances to communicate with their owners

Picture an appliance that communicates with the consumer via text message when it malfunctions, or needs service.  They purchase the appliance and its extended warranty, and register it with the manufacturer on their website.  A profile is created which includes your contact information and the model/serial of the appliance.  Assuming it’s something that has to be serviced in-home by a technician, the nearest service center to the consumer would be chosen and stored in the profile.

With the profile created, if an appliance malfunctions (I.E. heating element on the oven fails), it sends the consumer a text message alerting them that the element has failed.  It communicates with the profile and determines that the warranty still has six months remaining, and includes it in the text message.  It sends them another text message requesting to schedule an appointment for service, along with a link to help them schedule it.  Should the warranty be out of date, the text message would include a message stating that, and inform the consumer how much the charges would be to have it repaired (parts, labor, taxes, etc..).

Transmit anonymous usage conditions to the manufacturer

Appliances should be communicating with the manufacturer on a regular basis with usage statistics.  There’s no personal information included, but rather it keeps track of operating conditions, what functions are most/least commonly used, how often the appliance malfunctions and is repaired, and when an appliance approaching the end of life based on manufacturer’s specifications and consumer usage.

Since consumers “just use” their appliances, they aren’t always cognizant of what their most and least used features are.  While two people use an appliance completely different ways, it’s possible to determine that out of 500,000 dishwasher sold, that 15% of them still use the normal wash, where the remaining 85% have replaced it with heavy wash.  Washing machines can take statistics based on the type of loads it handles, amount of detergent per load, and the type of cycle used, and determine how people are washing their clothes.  It’s not a perfect science, but it gives manufacturers data to work with.

Using the consumer profile to recommend future appliances

Combining the appliance communication with the consumer usage statistics, it’s possible to use data from both to compile a sales profile.  One of the toughest parts about buying a new appliance is the compare/contrast of one make and model over another.  Depending on the store, salespeople are sometimes on commission, and are trained to push specific product lines.  While the vast majority of salespeople ask the right questions and get to know the customer, they cannot be expected to know how you use your appliances.

While a sales profile isn’t a perfect solution, it can give the consumer some preliminary choices before they head into the store to see the appliances in-person.  Salespeople will still be needed for those who decline to take the advice from the sales profile, for those who might be buying a new home and are choosing their appliance(s) for the first time, or for those who want to purchase a different brand than what they had.  Fortunately, there exists no shortage of blogs and articles that compare/contrast appliance, and with the advent of video blogs, it’s easier to see things in action.

Delegating the headache of keeping track of the minutiae to the cloud

Out of the hundreds of things a consumer deals with on a daily basis, it is important that we attempt to outsource as much of the menial and minute tasks to something else as possible.  Appliances could become autonomous to the point where it knows what it needs and simply needs its owner to act on requests.

Scheduling service should be a matter of logging into a website and setting an appointment that works best for that person.  Even this task could be delegated to whoever has authorized access to the profile described earlier.

Keeping track of information such as maintenance records, warranty information, instruction manuals, factory recommendations, potential recalls on parts, etc.. should be something that happens in the cloud and remaining accessible to the consumer when needed.  The service center should be able to access the maintenance records and warranty information as-needed for the scheduling of repairs.  For the most part, as long as the work is done and the appliance functions normally, that’s what matters.

All this autonomy seems to complicate what was once simple

The most complicated part of everything in this article is setting up the profile and registering your appliance – that by itself has become such a common aspect to owning anything.  The data collection element would be new, but it would be far more precise for the manufacturer than conducting interviews and sending out surveys.  The text communication between the appliance and the consumer aims to make ownership and maintenance easier and more precise, in addition to giving a service technician more information to work with.  It would be incumbent upon the manufacturer to give the consumer a choice of how to receive these communications, but it is doable.

The positive news is that the average consumer doesn’t frequently replace their home appliances.  Between extended warranties, proper care for them, and routine cleaning, our appliances should last us 10+ years.  Combine it with more people by the day purchasing used appliances, or the previous-year model, it’s possible to save money while getting a decent product.

The features I describe in this article won’t be in our home appliances for at least 10-20 years, but it’s inevitable as technology improves.

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About the author

Mike Rana

Mike Rana is one of those people who is hard to define, though he's not immune to being labeled for something. He likes to talk about many topics including technology, business, politics, education, psychology, and human behavior. In his spare time, Mike enjoys traveling, people watching, analyzing the world around him, writing about his life experiences, absorbing information from various social media channels, and trying to be the voice of reason in the political arena.