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Innovation Elixir: What our kitchens, bathrooms and bedrooms may look like in a decade

We know that technology is changing everything around us, but do you wonder what that might look like in reality in your kitchen, bathroom and bedroom a decade from now?

General Electric Co. invited me in for a glimpse of what its innovators think our homes might look like in the future in a project called “Home 2025.”

It’s not the first time GE has done this. In 1960, Arthur BecVar, GE’s manager of industrial design for major appliances, and his team of designers imagined a kitchen of the future. Today, many of his ideas, such as an induction cooking surface and refrigerator ice dispenser, have become a reality in many kitchens.

I knew we were going to talk a lot about kitchen appliances when I visited GE, so I brought with me Chris Seiple, an executive chef in Minneapolis. I wanted Chris to give his professional opinion as a practitioner on what would have real application — and what was just chatter. Neither of us were disappointed in the ensuing discussion.

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Personas: The key to consumer intimacy

Chris and I took away two main things from this conversation. First, GE’s approach to innovation was excellent. They formed teams that created “personas” of what appliances they felt consumers would be looking for in their homes by 2025. 

For young adults, they considered combined multiple appliances to save footprint size and add convenience, (like compaction for space constraints – see their “pelletized clothing storage” ideas). In contrast, for an aging population they projected medical alerts and health monitoring systems and apps built directly into appliance handles and doors.

Another one of our favorites was an induction countertop that only heated up where you set a pot down. It weighed and measured ingredients automatically. It even allowed you to use your finger on the surface to pull up recipes, techniques, or video chat with Grandma to understand how she created that favorite childhood dish!

In addition to young adults and seniors, GE came up with multiple personas of customers and what their needs would be. They did an exercise in trying to predict and model customer desire and needs and how they could solve them. I give GE huge kudos for this approach versus a more typical approach of “we have a cool technology or product – how do we sell it?” I think more companies would learn from being this customer-intimate.  Click here to see their other innovative ideas

GE innovation: Another competitive edge

Our second takeaway was that GE is a serious player in this market. From CES in Vegas, there was lots of bravado about other companies stepping into the appliance market,  specifically related to the “Internet of Things” concept. I think that is great, because competition always makes for a better marketplace. But these other guys better be ready because GE is in this space to win. Rather than incremental-type innovation around appliances, GE is looking at distinctive and breakthrough advances.

The everyday refrigerator hasn’t changed in 100 years, but GE is on the verge of a breakthrough technology and solution what would recast what a refrigerator is — or at least the space and operation of it as we know it. It is their magnetocaloric refrigeration unit. The breakthrough system, which is projected to be 20 percent more efficient than current refrigeration technology, could be inside your fridge by the end of the decade. The system is using a water-based fluid flowing through a series of magnets to transfer heat, rather than a chemical refrigerant and a compressor. This significantly lowers any harm to the environment and makes the recycling of old refrigerators simpler.

Overall, it’s pretty fascinating stuff, and GE is using great innovation principles by being consumer-centric and actually designing with the customer in mind rather than simply what they think they can bring to market.

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