"Hey Mia, is there still milk in the fridge?" – "The inventory says there's one carton!" When Miriam Hunger talks to her fridge, she's not actually thirsty. She is a social-media expert and a member of the "digitalisation" team, which, like all the best start-ups, is conducting a brainstorming session, in this case on the future of "Intelligent Cooling", at a workshop run by Liebherr and its partner Microsoft at Kirchdorf an der Iller in southern Germany.
The friendly Mia, with whom Miriam Hunger has been chatting about the contents of her fridge, is the only one here in the brightly-lit open-plan office not to be armed with a laptop or tablet as they research, discuss and share findings. Mia is actually called MIA, and her name stands for "Media Intelligence Assistant" – a voice-recognition system that accesses global information on the Internet and in the Cloud. Mia is assisted by an object- and voice-recognition system. To help with this, there are cameras integrated in the refrigerator, and on its front there is a stylish microphone and loudspeaker unit via which Mia communicates in a pleasantly relaxed voice.
In the age of digitalisation and the networking of household appliances, the refrigerator that "thinks for itself" will soon change consumer behaviour. "We're already making preparations for it," says Miriam Hunger. As an active sportswoman herself, she takes a great personal interest in healthy eating to promote fitness. In the "Intelligent Cooling Think Tank", she is working on building up a database which collects as much information as possible about foodstuffs and their properties and possible combinations of different foods in recipes, and links these in a whole host of different ways.
"This means that we can talk to Mia and ask for all sorts of information," says Miriam Hunger. "It is a self-teaching system and knows how many calories are in an apple, what nutrients milk contains and how many eggs there are in an omelette recipe for two people. Mia also makes it possible to keep track of the contents of your fridge even while you are out and about and to make shopping lists – according to the tastes and preferences of the individual user." In this way, the fridge is able to play a completely new role in everyday life, says Hunger. "It changes from being a passive to an active companion on the road to a sustainable and healthy lifestyle."