Scandinavian appliance maker Electrolux AB plans to show this week a prototype of a refrigerator that will let users order goods over the Internet.
Electrolux plans to launch the Screen Fridge this year, but it has not yet been determined where the product will be marketed, according to Folke Hammarlind, Electrolux press manager.
Screen Fridge has a flat screen computer in its door that can be linked directly to the Internet. The computer is installed with a Windows-based operating system from Microsoft, a browser for 'net surfing and a bar-code scanner that electronically reads product information, according to Graham Drage, with Electrolux's future businesses division. When services are eventually available, users will be able to use the scanner to order products directly from local retailers over the Internet.
Electrolux and ICL PLC (International Computers Limited), a UK-based supplier of IT systems and services that helped develop the product, are holding discussions with retailers whose goods could be ordered via the Internet and then delivered to consumers' homes, Drage said. ICL provided technology for the product, with Electrolux supplying the user interface, he said.
Electrolux will be doing intensive testing to see how consumers react to the product. "Technology in the kitchen needs to be invisible. People don't want to have to work hard to get what they want," said Drage. Consumers will use the refrigerator to carry out specific jobs rather than to just surf the 'Net, he added.
The Screen Fridge offers a touch-screen interface allowing users to input information. Electrolux sees the product serving as a family message centre, allowing people to send e-mails, order goods or even to watch television on the screen, according to Hammarlind.
The Screen Fridge will be shown next week, both at the Domotechnica appliance fair in Cologne, Germany, and at the Euroshop retailers conference in Düsseldorf.
A refrigerator isn't the first kitchen appliance to get hooked up the Internet, however. NCR announced a microwave oven prototype offering many of the same features last September.