Space-age stovetop eliminates pots, pans and cookbooks

Look out Judy Jetson, Electrolux plans to make pots and pans seem so last century. Henrik Otto, world renowned director of Global Design for Electrolux in Sweden envisions smart kitchens of 2050 as a cross between the Sci-Fi channel and the Food Network.

Designed to address a population the UN predicts will live mainly in cities (74%) and exceed 9 billion world wide, Otto and his team believe the future lies in appliances that are energy efficient, serve multiple functions and relate to the architecture of the home in a symbiotic (read networked) way.

Sound cool? It is. Check out the video:

"I am a strong believer that the only way we can create a sustainable world is through technology," said Otto in an interview with WalletPop. He admits, however, there are some things that should never change. "I don't believe in the Star Trek style where you push a button and your food appears ... there's an emotional satisfaction to sitting down and eating something you have created."

It's the preparation part that's getting a makeover. Heart of the Home is Electrolux's high-concept answer to what might happen in 2050 after we buzz home in our jet packs from our fulfilling, clean energy jobs.

Introduced this month at DesignBoost in Stockholm, Heart of the Home is an amorphous, shape-shifting cooktop-countertop-cookbook-computer that responds to touch. Domestic gods and goddesses of the future will use their fingers to outline the desired size and shape of a pot on its surface, next they will press down with their hand to determine the depth of the bowl or pan. "It's like 3D shapes moving under a skin," said Otto, who explained that the cooking recesses could also be moved around on the counter to accommodate changing need. Similar to how the screen on an iTouch can expand or contract with the flick of a finger.

The rockin' range will also provide cooking counsel, literally at your fingertips. When ingredients are placed into the cooking holes on the countertop, the smart stove will suggest recipes and preparation ideas. Otto said he envisions this feature as a way for people to try new flavors, herbs, and ingredients. Not sure what to do with those turnips, throw 'em on the stove and let technology be your muse.

Otto wants to make it clear, however, that they are definitely in the development stage. "I want to explain that it is a concept," says Otto, "I'm a strong believer that a concept triggers reactions ... and like any concept, it is based on what we know today." He points out that 30 years ago, people would have had a hard time imagining a cell phone without a dial or push buttons that can play music, movies and more. The idea, says Otto, "is to provoke a discussion."

Otto says the closest thing we currently have to something amorphous like Heart of the Home are the 3D sculptures some artists are creating with magnetic liquid and magnetic fields.

Bottom line, how will we clean this thing. Spaghetti sauce? Chili? Otto points to current nano-covered surfaces, fabrics and windows that don't require washing. I'm all ears. He also suggests that we may not have the "luxury" of using water to wash our dishes and clothes in 40 years, but may instead use special cloths or products.

If Electolux's vision of the future is true, copper pots and cook books could go the way of rotary phones, card catalogs and privacy. It begs the question, WWMD (what will Martha do?)!

Otto says companies that excel in the future will be those who look forward and consider the needs of a changing world. "If you think the products you have today are ever lasting, you're on your way out...we don't want to be filling warehouses with products we can't use."

Although, there's no way to predict what Heart of the Home will eventually cost, like all good technology, if consumers wait long enough it will eventually go on sale at Costco or Sears. In the end, it may not be more than what we already pay for snazzy showpiece ranges ($3,000-$12,000), and if you figure in a 14-piece set of stainless steel, All Clad cookware from Crate and Barrel ( $1,149.95), and some counter-top mixing bowls (OXO at Target $25.89) that you will no longer need to buy and store, the price tag may not be totally out of this world.

Start saving up for that kitchen renovation now (you've got 40 years!), home cooking is headed out of the frying pan and into the future.
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