Keith Nunes

While much of the news from CES 2017, held in January in Las Vegas and formerly known as the Consumer Electronics Show, focused on such innovations as driverless cars, the potential of artificial intelligence and the latest enhancements to aerial drones, there was also news of even more specific interest to food and beverage manufacturers. Innovations exhibited at the annual trade show may one day dramatically change numerous aspects of the supply chain, from the farm to what consumers decide to serve for dinner. It is a reminder that the rapid pace of technological change experienced during the past two decades is not slowing.

Many of the new applications are based on the concept of the “internet-of-things,” which uses the interconnection of the internet and sensors embedded in any number of objects and allows them to transmit and receive data. This capability has the potential to create a digital connection giving the user a level of control unimaginable in the past.

Food and the internet-of-things
The rapid pace of technological change experienced during the past two decades is not slowing.

One example of such an application comes from Amber Agriculture, which was named best start-up venture at CES 2017 by the technology news service Endgadget. Amber’s system uses pellet-size wireless sensors that are distributed throughout industrial grain bins and allow farmers to monitor the quality of grain in storage. From their smartphones farmers may receive alerts if quality changes occur and remotely turn fans on and off in an effort to sustain grain quality.

A similar approach to quality control and transparency was exhibited by the Paris-based company Biotraq. The firm is developing a solution that will allow the growers, processors and distributors of such perishable products as fresh produce to track quality through the supply chain. Much like Amber Agriculture, the Biotraq system relies on sensors sending and receiving data throughout the food chain and allows users to communicate its condition to stakeholders.

For consumers, the internet-of-things may significantly alter meal occasions. One company working to create a “connected food ecosystem” is Innit, Redwood City, Calif. It may sound fanciful, but the Innit system seeks to use food science and technology to prepare a connected customer’s food. The platform employs sensors to identify and measure ingredients a consumer has in their kitchen. Based on this information, it recommends recipes and executes portions of the cooking process through connected kitchen appliances. This past June, Innit’s concept moved a large step closer to reality when the company entered into an agreement with the appliance maker Whirlpool Corp. The company’s Jenn-Air line of wi-fi connected ovens will offer the Innit platform.

A Department of Commerce analysis published earlier this month notes the internet-of-things is proliferating at a rapid rate. A wider range of systems and devices is creating a massive network and enabling the integration of previously discrete industries. From wearable devices that track various health metrics to supply chains that one day may be capable of tracking an individual beverage can from production to recycling, abundant opportunities have been conceived for improving efficiencies and personal customization.

Even now it may seem as if self-driving cars are impossibly futuristic, but it is forecast that as many as 10 million cars with self-driving features will be on the road by 2020. The pace of change is rapid, and food industry innovators will not be watching from the sidelines.