The 1960s are remembered for some important events: the advent of the hippie movement, the appearance of the Beatles, the first steps of man on the moon.... But do names like Echo IV seem familiar to you? Even better: Honeywell's Kitchen Computer, a computer/kitchen assistant that already showed at the time that technology can be both useless and cost a fortune.
The 60s: Theater of the world and cradle of the connected house
If I say "60s", you will probably think "That's one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind", or "She loves you yeah, yeah, yeah", or maybe even "I have a dream". From the hippie movement to the fate of Martin Luther King and JFK, the 1960s were full of events.
From a completely different perspective, in the shadow of all these great moments, names of pioneers in the field of technology have also appeared. Today, unknown, is the ECHO IV, which in 1966 was one of the first computers (as a prototype) able to control the temperature in a house. Well, it was huge and didn't really work well, but it paved the way for what is now called the connected home. Later, in 1970, we also saw the arrival of a home automation system, the X10, which controlled several electronic devices (including a remote control).
The absurd ancestor of the smart home
I would like to draw your attention today to a device called the Honeywell Kitchen Computer. Like the ELIZA program I told you about, this computer has made a lot of noise, but this time it was not good. It was deserved, it must be said. This computer was an aberration, it really made no sense (not even then) and its price was simply an insult to common sense. The fact that it has never been sold illustrates the absurdity of the situation. That said, there is a lesson to be learned from this story.
As its name suggests, the Kitchen Computer was a robot that served as an assistant in the kitchen, more precisely it was able to track down your recipes and offer you menus (meal plans). It is interesting to see that already in the 60s we imagined a role for the machine in the kitchen other than mechanical. In short, a pioneer of modern appliances that make our lives easier, like all connected home appliances. However, there are a few minor problems that weigh heavily in the balance: the device weighed 100 pounds. In addition, a toggle-switch input was required, (unless you wanted to use the 16 keys of the device, each representing one bit). In short, a nightmare for the user. As for the advertising campaign, I let you get your own idea by looking at the pictures and the slogan below. Let's say it didn't age well.
Not surprisingly, this device never sold, but in its defense, it must be acknowledged that its price of $10,000 at the time (nearly $70,000 today) would only turn people off. To put it simply, it was big, heavy, very complicated to use and cost a lot of money. But at a time when machines were booming in the military, industrial and scientific fields, the idea of taking it to the home was not necessarily silly (this device aside), only too early.
What does this device teach us?
The question arises: what could this device possibly have to teach us? The first thing is that it is not new to see entrepreneurs offering anything on the market at crazy prices to attract rich customers. The second is that history sometimes takes strange paths,and that what sometimes seems completely senseless at the time sometimes makes sense in the long term: this device is one of the first (or perhaps even the first?) computers used as consumer products. It symbolized the future but was ahead of its time.
By its nature, it represented the desire since the late 1960s to introduce technology into the home to help people perform certain tasks. In other words, it is an ancestor and a pioneer of the connected home. In addition, its history also illustrates the importance of having "user friendly" machines (a concept that has evolved over the years to include the invention of the graphical user interface by Xerox PARC).
Do you think there are too many unnecessary technological inventions today? What is the most absurd device you have seen on the market lately?