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the future of food, part two: connected kitchens and the internet of food (io_f)

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The Future of Food, Part Two: Connected Kitchens and the Internet of Food (IoF)

The Future of Food is upon us. Although one set of approaches to innovating the food system is admittedly a bit nostalgic, there is still plenty of room for a Jetsons-style vision of the future of growing, cooking, and eating. Four of the startups presenting at Wednesday's Think&Act event might just as easily appear during our Code+Matter series. FarmX, Orange Chef, 6Sensor Labs, and Sereneti Kitchen are food startups working in the Internet of Things. Their connected devices use sensors, robotics, and cloud data to connect, test, automate, and optimize the production and consumption of food from farm to table.

Food has always been a node in the Internet of Things, from smart refrigerators to wearables that help track your calorie consumption. But new ways to network this most-analog realm are emerging, becoming more cost effective and widely adopted. The farm might seem like the last destination for futuristic technology - even in Star Trek, the vineyard is depicted as a space of tradition untouched by time - but, perhaps unsurprisingly, this area is rife with opportunity as climatological challenges are being met by innovative hardware and data solutions. One of our Think&Act presenters, FarmX makes soil probes that sense moisture levels and connect to the cloud, so that farmers can track water consumption in real time. Their technology allows for the tracking of moisture levels over time so that farms can not only respond to acute soil conditions but employ predictive analytics to optimize their watering and fertilization practices - a need becoming increasingly important as drought conditions worsen. 

The farm isn’t the only place where need is outpacing technology adoption. As awareness of food allergens grows, more restaurants and retail lines are bringing consumers options catered to a growing variety of dietary restrictions. But industrial kitchens process high volumes, and sensitive consumers may need better guarantees than a simple ingredients list. Many smaller retailers and restaurants, meanwhile, may be producing menu items that are ideal for certain diets but not advertised as such. That’s where 6Sensor Labs comes in. 6Sensor’s portable allergen sensor allows gluten-sensitive individuals to test food before consuming it, liberating them from the constraints of celiac-friendly menus and allowing them to consume food from unknown sources, knowing they’re safe from ingredients their systems can’t handle.

But I promised you a Jetsons-style vision of the Future of Food, and you must have it. It may be a while yet before robot butlers are a household commodity, but technology for the home kitchen is progressing at a rapid clip. A number of companies now offer curated boxes of portioned ingredients for pre-selected recipes, but these offer only modest time savings. Sereneti Kitchen has developed Cooki, a robot chef that mixes and times ingredients in a dish much as a skilled human would do. Fast-food robots might still be the stuff of satire, but it’s pretty cool to think that technology could make it to our own kitchens before it gets to corporations.

Of course, the big problem with IoT is the multitude all these devices and sensors introduce. Orange Chef’s solution combines a smart scale with software that smartifies and connects your kitchen appliances. They’ve already developed accessories that work with Vitamix blenders and Crockpot cookers, and can sync with wearable fitness trackers like the Jawbone UP and Apple Watch. Orange Chef syncs smart-appliance-optimized recipes with a scale for precise measurement in order to record, automatically, exactly what you’re actually consuming, taking the guess work out of calorie tracking and making health monitoring less of a hassle. We're still a ways off from AI-planned menus and Star Trek-style food replicators, but taking Optimized one step closer to Easy is pretty great for now.

The future of food is looking way cooler than microwave meals. All four of these companies will be demoing on Wednesday, and some of our other presenters will have samples of food straight from the future. I’ll give you my taste-tester’s report on cricket-flour cookies from Bitty Foods, Kuli Kuli’s superfood bars and shakes, and Kite Hill’s nut-milk dairy alternatives. Stay tuned!

The THINK&ACT series, a production of FABERNOVEL and PARISOMA, aims to bridge the gap between startups and large organizations. It explores the cutting-edge of industry, tech and design. From the future of driving, to the shared city and big data advertising, we gather industry trailblazers to share their stories, demo their products and engage with our diverse community. THINK&ACT is a celebration of the progress industries have made and inspiration for the future.

Join us on Wednesday, June 10th (6:30pm-9pm), as we celebrate the success of the food startup economy with a night of demos, delicious food, and rich conversation with thought leaders shaping the way we grow, source, and consume the things we eat.

PARISOMA provides freelancers and early-stage companies with the space and tools they need to support their business.