Dory Yacobian parks her minivan, pulls out a cell phone and checks on her lasagna. Using her phone to control the oven at home, she adjusts the bake time, plops the handset into her purse and greets her daughter coming out of school. "It alleviates so much stress to be able to walk in the door and have dinner ready and waiting," she says. "I love this."
Yacobian is one of 20 working mothers in the Boston area currently living with Jetsons-style kitchens as part of a pilot program sponsored by the Internet Home Alliance, a consortium of companies trying to figure out how to make the kitchen of tomorrow a must-have today. The cell phone--controlled cooler/oven comboa Whirlpool Polara souped up by IBMis just one component. Each family also has an Icebox FlipScreen (a TV with a DVD-CD player and Internet access that hangs from a kitchen cabinet) and a Whirlpool refrigerator equipped with a wireless Web tablet. Everything is networked to the family PC and uses the household's high-speed Internet connection to go online. For the Yacobians of Needham, Mass., this means more fat cables running up from the home office in the basement and a bunch of new network devices around an already cluttered desk. But it also means more home-cooked meals on Dory's "crazy days," when she commutes to a part-time job.
As I watch the Yacobians experiment with their cutting-edge gear, it's hard to decide whether I'm glimpsing the future or just an adventurous family getting the most out of some free toys. They're certainly having fun with the stuff. Paige, 9, plays a helicopter-flying game on the Icebox while Stuart, 11, stands nearby, using the tablet's browser to start his science homework. Later their mother takes over the Icebox to print Allrecipes.com's instructions for Beef-and-Noodle Bake (using an HP ink-jet, another loaner, that sits where a toaster oven might once have been). All that connectivity helps keep the family together in one place (though Dory still runs downstairs out of habit to check her e-mail). But those tasks could be tackled from an ordinary laptop rigged to a home network much simpler than the one they've just had professionally installed. And the Yacobians have the benefit of highly attentive--and free--customer service.
That evening Dory tosses a salad while her husband Rob pours milk for the kids. The lasagna--which had been assembled the night before, slipped into the oven that morning and kept chilled under a cooling fan until cook mode kicked in at 6 p.m.--is sitting in warm mode, ready to serve. Stuart is still clutching the Web tablet, monitoring the final minutes of a baseball-card auction on eBay and blocking traffic to the dining room. While his parents work to pry him loose ("Enough already!" his dad prods), I wonder if by acquiring all these gadgets, the Yacobians have simply replaced one kind of domestic chaos with another. But then Stuart sits down, Paige says grace, and as we tuck into our food, the technology recedes, and what matters is the lasagna--and it's delicious.
See time.com for more about the Yacobians' kitchen