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Haier's concept fridge features an olfactory sensor.
When looking at the whole of technology, there seem to be two tiers. Cars have benefitted from rapid incremental innovation, going from just 4 wheels and a steering wheel to the modern luxurious and safe pieces of engineering we know and love. Refrigerators, on the other hand, remain largely unchanged since the move from "ice-powered" to compressor-based design, with only relatively minor innovations such as modular shelving and water dispensers.
Haier is looking to change this by going past the core usability of its refrigerators, aiming to make them into the food management system of the household. According to Haier, almost a third of groceries purchased in Europe end up in the trash rather than the stove, causing consumers to waste thousands of Euros; numbers for America are even more saddening as nearly half of all groceries go to waste.
The reasons for this are twofold: sometimes people simply forget what is in their fridge, and sometimes groceries spoil before they can be used. Haier aims to fix both problems: the former with its food management system, the latter with olfactory sensors. That's right, electronic noses.
Food smells are caused by the gasses that are naturally emitted by various food products, much like sight is based on the perception of photons bouncing off surfaces. As those gasses enter the nose, olfactory receptors send data to the brain, which is then interpreted into the delicious smells of freshly baked bread or the pungent aroma of two-week-old Chinese takeout. Much like your nose can differentiate between food that is fine to eat and food that should be tossed out, Haier’s concept fridge identifies food that is past its prime.
An olfactory sensor, or electronic nose, in the fridge’s crisper drawer feeds information about the gas composition, or smell, in the compartment to a tablet situated on the door. The software then compares that smell to a huge scent database specific to the type of food that is in the crisper. The tablet then calculates the status of the food item, reports the freshness level and alerts the user when it might be time to stir-fry those peppers before they go bad.
Haier touts this system as the next step in fridge innovation, providing both advances in food usability and safety measures. It’s approach is promising and time will tell whether food spoilage detection systems like this will find their way into many American kitchens. The appeal is certainly there; who wouldn’t rather use an electronic nose to determine if the milk is sour, rather than their own.