THE INTERNET OF EATS

It was the Three-Course Dinner Gum that served as Violet Beauregarde’s downfall at Willy Wonka’s Chocolate Factory and also introduced multiple generations to the curious possibilities of food’s future. Now, more than fifty years’ since the publication of the Roald Dahl classic, we’re on the brink of innovations that might make twentieth-century fiction look more like a forecasting engine. As the way we cook, eat and interact with our food is evolving, what does the future eating look like?
Let’s start in the kitchen
Many an embroidered wall-hanging will tell you that the kitchen is the heart of the home. Today, that heart holds many possibilities for innovation, some of which are already in play. There are a growing number of smart refrigerators on the market, offering touch-screen, wi-fi enabled doors—yes, you can watch cat videos but you can also view how many eggs you have stocked while you’re at the market.
Similarly, wi-fi oven ranges are making it possible to adjust oven temperatures from afar and check if you left your burners on after you left the house. The connectivity plays out in a few different ways; some appliances will connect to your smartphone, but many are hooking up with smart home systems or digital assistants (see Whirlpool and Nest and GE and Alexa) and yet others plug into their own smart home systems (see Samsung’s Smartthings Hub).
But if you’re not ready to invest in new built-in appliances, there are other entry points to smarter cooking. Cuciniale, for example, promises to deliver perfectly cooked meats by connecting your steak to your smartphone through its multisensor probe. June Intelligent Oven also works with sensors to improve timing and preparation, but can also recognize what food it’s cooking.
These (as well as the bigger appliances) have the appeal of ease and convenience and may also elevate our cooking skills much in the same way digital has improved our photography. (Think of “seared” as a filter you can simply tap to apply to your tuna.)
Those holding out for a fully hands-off solution might find projects like UK startup Moley Robotics’ robotic kitchen of interest. Moley offers a pair of wall-embedded arms that can prepare and cook your meals. (No indication if it also does dishes.) Meanwhile, thanks to artificial intelligence, robots are learning how to cook the same way many humans are picking up tips: through Youtube. It’s all quite compelling, though, for now at least, it’s still more convenient to just order a pizza.
What about the actual food?
A more savory aspect of the future of food is, naturally, the food itself. One fairly easy trend to identify is the move toward a more health-conscious eating—there are plenty of studies to support this but you really only need to see that McDonald’s sells apple slices for confirmation. Technology is ready to enable this trend, with apps that offer calorie counts on pictures of food and devices like Nima that scan food for gluten and other allergens.  
In a way that mirrors the fragmenting of media experiences, we’re also moving toward an era of more customized meals. That’s not simply Ethan-won’t-eat-zucchini-so-make-him-a-hot-dog-customization, but rather food that is developed to mirror our specific preferences, adjust to allergies and even address specific nutritional deficiencies. Success here relies on access to dietary insights, be it through logged historical eating patterns, blood levels and/or gut microbiome data. (New York Magazine has an interesting piece on the use of microbiome data to create your own personal food algorithm.)
And while it’s easy to imagine more personalized diets at home, we can count on technology to support that same customized approach while we’re eating out. Increasingly restaurants like Chili’s, Applebee’s, Olive Garden and Buffalo Wild Wings are introducing the table side tablet to increase efficiency and accuracy in orders and payments. As restaurant-goers take more control in how food is ordered, it will be easy to expect more customization in what is ordered.
Are we redefining food?
Given the rise of allergies and food intolerance, it’s not difficult to imagine a world of highly-customized eating. More unexpected in the evolution of eating is the work being done in neurogastronomy. This is a field that is approaching flavor from a neural level—actually rewiring the brain to change our perception of taste. In other words, neurogastronomy could make a rice cake register as delicious as ice cream cake. By fundamentally changing the types of food from which we derive pleasure, neurogastronomy could essentially trick us into healthier eating.
Then there is the emerging camp that eschews eating in favor of more efficient food alternatives. Products like provocatively-named Soylent and the much-humbler-sounding Schmilk offer a minimalist approach to nutrition (underscored by minimalist packaging), sort of like Marie Kondo for your diet. While this level of efficiency may have appeal in today’s cult of busy-ness, there something bittersweet about stripping food to the bare nutritional essentials, like eliminating the art of conversation in favor of plain, cold communication.
Another entry from the takes-some-time-to-get-used-to department comes from a team of Danish researchers. With the goal of addressing the costly challenge of food storage in space, CosmoCrops is working on a way to 3D-print food. There are already a number of products available that offer 3D-printed food (check out this Business Insider article for some cool food sculptures), but CosmoCrops is unique in its aim to reduce storage needs by printing food from bacteria. To that end, they are developing a ‘super-bacterium’ that can survive in space. (What could possibly go wrong?)
Where is the opportunity?
It’s probably too soon to tell if we’ll be more likely to nosh on bacteria burgers or pop nutritional powder pills come 2050. What is easier to digest today is the fact that connectivity is coming to eating. For the home kitchen, it won’t happen immediately—the turnover for built-in appliances isn’t as quick as, say, televisions and costs are still high. This means there’s still time for the contenders, both the appliance builders and the smart technology providers, to figure out which features will tip the kitchen in their favor.
From a dietary perspective, there is an opportunity in bridging the gap between our diet and technology. Restaurants will want to explore how to use technology to support more customized food preferences, but the broader question may be what will make it possible—and acceptable, in terms of privacy—to analyze personal data in order to develop meals that align with our unique food preferences as well as our specific nutritional needs? Maybe it’s a wearable that links your gut bacteria to ingredients stocked in the fridge, a toothbrush that reads your saliva, or (to really close the loop) the diagnostic toilet.
With innovation happening on many tracks, the possibilities for our future cooking and eating are both broad and captivating. What will lunch look like in next fifty, twenty, or even ten years? To borrow from Willy Wonka (who actually borrowed from Oscar Wilde): “The suspense is terrible. I hope it’ll last.”

WeWork making cuts; Fadell leaves Nest; BitTorrent spins out Sync

All sorts of changes going on:

  • WeWork plans to cut around 7% of its staff, according to Bloomberg’s Ellen Huet, and has paused hiring. The $16B coworking/coliving startup raised $430 million a few months ago led by Chinese investors, and plans to expand in Asia. It seems that WeWork might be responding to the advice of many investors to cut back on burn as the economy seems to be cooling.
  • Tony Fadell has left Nest following months of bad press and growing friction within Alphabet/Google, which acquired the company in 2014 for $3.2 billion. Positioned as a ‘transition’, the move is more likely the case of Fadell being pushed out. The new Nest CEO is Marwan Fawaz, who was a Motorola Mobility executive vice president, and who oversaw the sell off of that company after Google’s acquisition of Motorola. Looks like Alphabet/Google is positioning Nest for a sale, since Google’s developed its own line of smart home products that don’t play nice with Nest’s technologies.
  • BitTorrent has spun out Sync, its file sync and share technology, into a new firm, Resilio, and Sync will be renamed as Connect. Former BitTorrent CEO Eric Klinker will be heading up the new company, after trying to repositioning BitTorrent as an enterprise software company. It now seems the existing BitTorrent company will focus on a new live streaming app.

Smart devices can make the insurance biz proactive, not reactive

Insurance companies are looking for ways to reduce the amount of money they have to pay out on claims, and one promising way to reduce that risk is through connected security and home automation devices. In this week’s podcast I spoke with Dan Reed, managing director at American Family Ventures, the venture capital arm of American Family Insurance. AmFam as it is known, has 10 million policies and offers home, auto and life insurance.

Reed shared with me a bit about how he’s looking for investments in the space and also how the insurance industry is thinking about the smart home and about data privacy. “For the insurance industry in general [IoT] is essentially an extension of smoke detectors and seat belts. These are inexpensive products that can help keep people safe,” Reed said. “And from a strategic point of view, as a a strategic participant in the venture industry it offers the opportunity for a new type of engagement with our policyholders.”

He added that this changes the model of the insurance industry from a reactive to a proactive model and added that he believes that the industry not only has an economic incentive but also a moral incentive help prevent bad things from happening to its customers. Within that context he thinks the insurance industry will subsidize devices such as water leak sensors or connected smoke detectors much like they already offer discounts to homeowners that add alarm systems to their homes.

But once insurance companies start subsidizing connected devices, what claim will they have on the data those devices generate? Connected smoke detectors can offer not just low battery warnings or smoke alarm notifications, but can share details about people in the home or even temperature data. A connected security camera could share much more. On cars, data might include speed and location data that the insurer might want for setting pricing, but also might have to provide in case of an accident or legal demand.

When asked, Reed explained a program that AmFam implemented in 2007 that was aimed at teenage drivers and reducing their accident rates. The program put a DriveCam in cars that activated when a car accelerated or braked too quickly and then sent the footage to the cloud where independent analysts and the teen’s parents could see the images. The analysts rated the footage to make sure the program was helping reduce accidents and the parents saw the footage so they could talk to their kids about the choices they were making behind the wheel.

The program was opt-in, and it did help change driving habits and cut accidents. Reed said that program exemplifies how his company thinks about privacy and user data, and how he hopes the industry thinks about it as well.

“We are very conscious of this notion of Big Brother and of privacy within your own home or your own vehicle, and I think it is something that the insurance industry and the startups in this space have to be very cognizant of and very transparent about,” he said. “They have to tell users how they are going to use the information that is coming off of these devices and right from the start take a benevolent position about the partnerships you have with your policyholders. I think the worst thing that could happen is that a company would collect information that the policyholders don’t know about or approve of. I think that would be a major setback to the deployment of some of these safety technologies.”

For more from Reed or to hear Kevin Tofel and I respond to some of our reader questions, take a listen to this week’s podcast from earlier this week. It’s a long show, but chock full of good stuff.

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Nest to replace old Dropcams for free before they go dark April 15

One downside of having products that require cloud services in order to work is that the physical objects can suddenly become obsolete.

Over the weekend, Dropcam announced a “legacy camera replacement program,” which means that older Dropcams will stop connecting to the Dropcam service on April 15, rendering them mostly useless, which is a bummer for those who bought them. However, Dropcam is offering a free Dropcam HD — currently retailing for $120 — to anyone who has a Dropcam that’s going dark.

In a statement provided to Droid-Life, Dropcam said that eligible users will be contacted directly and offered the replacement.

The two affected products are the original Dropcam and the Dropcam Echo, both of which came out between 2009 and 2011. Both were launched way before Dropcam was purchased by Nest (which, in turn, is owned by Google.)

However, hardware has never been Dropcam’s focus. The company started out producing software for hardware from other companies, and has always focused more on its cloud subscription service and making raw footage useful. Dropcam generates income comes from a cloud-archiving and video-management service which starts at $9.95 per month. It’s also been working on a machine vision feature called activity recognition, which uses machine learning to recognize what activities the Dropcam is recording. Duffy told Gigaom in 2013 that “Dropcam at its core is a cloud services company that happens to make hardware.”

Dropcam hasn’t explained why it was sunsetting its older products, only saying that “some features won’t work with our older Dropcam models. As we improve Dropcam, we’ll no longer be able to give Original Dropcam and Dropcam Echo owners an experience that meets our standards. So we decided to stop supporting these products and offer owners a free replacement Dropcam HD camera.”

Even for early adopters, Dropcam declaring end-of-life on its early products isn’t the biggest problem considering the free camera upgrade. That’s one benefit to a startup being purchased by a deep-pocketed giant like Google.

This article was updated at 5pm ET to clarify that Dropcam is replacing old models with the Dropcam HD model. 

Ford opens computing lab to focus on self-driving cars and data

Car giant Ford held the grand opening for its new Silicon Valley research center on Thursday. There, the company will work on the future of digital technologies for its cars, from autonomous vehicles to connectivity to new human machine interfaces. At the event, which kicks off at 10 a.m. PT, Ford plans to show off its latest self-driving car tech, how big data will inform its vehicles, and partnerships with Valley startups like Nest.

Ford’s new center will staff 125 researchers and engineers by the end of the year, and the site will expand its presence in the Valley. Ford has brought on former Apple engineer Dragos Maciuca to lead the center.

As part of its new R&D, Ford also announced a new research partnership with Stanford University, which will focus on an autonomous Fusion Hybrid. Engineers in the Stanford University engineering program will get access to the car for testing and research.

We’ll keep you updated with the latest on Ford’s technology from the event. Stay tuned.

Glass leaves Google X labs, team will report to Nest CEO Tony Fadell

Google Glass is growing up. On Thursday, Google confirmed that it is planning to take its computerized eyewear product out of the experimental Google X unit. Instead Glass will be its own division, and Google Glass head Ivy Ross will report to Nest CEO Tony Fadell.

Tony Fadell is famous for contributing to the birth of the iPod at Apple. He landed at Google after the company bought Nest, his smart home startup, in 2014 for $3.2 billion. Glass isn’t joining Nest, but the team will report to Fadell — which is the biggest expansion in Fadell’s role since he joined Google.

Google is planning to stop selling Glass on January 19, 2015, which means the entire Explorer program is winding down. However, the Glass At Work program will continue.

In the short few years that Google Glass has been available, it’s clearly been a kind of beta test. Google has called its beta testers “explorers,” and with a $1500 price tag, Glass has generally been too expensive and experimental for mass consumption.

google glass angled

Google

Recently, worries about the platform’s future have led a few major developers, like Twitter, to abandon their Glass apps. Google says that a future version of Glass is on its way, possibly powered by an Intel chip. But Google didn’t provide a timeline, beyond that it will “launch when it’s ready.”

Google X is overseen by Google co-founder Sergey Brin, and its offices, according to a 2013 article in Businessweek, are not on the main Google campus.

Ivy Ross took over Google Glass in May after doing marketing work for consumer brands brands like Mattel and Disney — which is a good fit for Glass as it sheds its anti-social image through partnerships with fashionable eyewear companies like Luxottica.

Here’s a video of Fadell talking to Gigaom founder Om Malik at Roadmap 2014.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qPeSzx7wsNE

Wall Street’s perspective on IoT and the plague of CES

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The internet of things isn’t ready to roil Wall Street this year. Or at least that’s the conclusion of former Deutsche Bank financial analyst Jonathan Goldberg, who is now a development executive for Paragon Semiconductor and still write analysts notes at Digits to Dollars. I asked him to come on the show this week for his opinion after International CES and because don’t often get a public equities analysts’ opinions on the show.

Goldberg, who is former semiconductor analyst, broke down the internet of things market into four categories and discussed the opportunities for companies in each. He concluded that this year Wall Street won’t be fooled by hype, so we’re not likely to see a lot of crazy stock movement driven by the buzzwords. For that and more listen to the interview after hearing Kevin Tofel and I discuss our final days at CES, Samsung’s keynote, the best UI for the smart home right now and a few other odds and ends. Enjoy the show.

Hosts: Stacey Higginbotham and Kevin Tofel
Guests: Jonathan Goldberg, a former equities analysts and current VP of development at Paragon Semiconductor

  • Kevin and I dove right in with Samsung’s CES keynote
  • The best UI for the smart home right now is Works with Nest and I’ll tell you why
  • What used to be M2M is not IoT and it’s moved from marketing to the product manager
  • How Wall Street divides up internet of things companies

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