How to “Kasher” Smart Home Devices

As technology makes its way more into our homes with the claim of making our lives easier and more convenient, for Orthodox Jews these benefits often come at a cost and with a headache. Appliances these days – big and small – are packed with features that are great to use during the week but are problematic on Shabbos. For example, dishwashers often have LED lighting that turns on when you open the door, which mean that you can’t stick your dirty dishes into it after the Shabbos meal. What is a balabusta to do? Do you seek out those few dishwasher models that have a “Sabbath Mode”, which all it does is prevent the LED lights from turning on when opening the door? Perhaps you look for an older and less feature-rich model without those problematic features?

Increasingly, we are presented with these types of questions when bringing modern technology into our homes but avoiding these technologies altogether can often be a challenge. Soon, finding an old-style “dumb” appliance may be as hard as finding a “dumb” cellphone; sure, they exist. But you need to buy them in specialty stores. And they may even be more expensive. Is this the direction we are headed? Will we soon have kosher appliance stores much like we have kosher grocery stores?

Ironically, the solution to these problematic issues might very well be more technology. The rise of smart internet connected devices might be the tool we need to navigate these thorny halachic issues. How so? Because once the functions and features of a device or appliance are interfaced to a consumer-facing application it becomes much easier to disable the features that are problematic, and you may even be able to do so automatically. Meaning, companies are now increasingly giving us, the users, more control over the features of our devices.

To understand this better, consider why market analysts predict that soon even cheap appliances will be smart internet-connected devices. It all comes down to development and manufacturing costs. Traditionally each model a manufacturer produced required many custom components, such as buttons, circuit boards, and custom chipsets that support the particular functions of that model appliance. Because of the increasing popularity of and demand for internet connected devices, manufacturers are now incentivized to save on many of those costs by using off-the-shelf Wi-Fi chipsets and just loading their custom firmware that supports and controls the particular functions of their appliance. Allowing consumers to control most of the features of the appliance or device from their phones instead is both popular with consumer and economical for manufacturers.

The expense in creating custom components is also a big part of the reason why manufactures don’t typically include buttons for controlling features (such as dishwasher lights) that few consumers will use. However, now that all of the functions of a device are digitized, the cost associated with allowing the consumers to control these features in the device software is trivial. In other words, it costs your dishwasher company very little to give you the option to turn your own light off.

Once a device’s features are digitized and made available to the consumer it becomes easier to control these features in a flexible way and integrate their functionality with other devices and software. For the Jewish consumer this means it may be relatively simple to create their own “Sabbath mode”.

Actually, with a smart internet connected device it is possible to create a “super Sabbath mode”, if you will—a device that is aware not just of Shabbos but also of Yom Tov and one that puts itself into the Sabbath mode automatically.

We are already seeing the market advance in the direction of giving consumers more control over functionality, which is encouraging and – let’s face it – pretty futuristic and all-around awesome. Unfortunately, although it is now possible for manufacturers to make most available functions of a device available to consumers through an app or software, not all manufacturers are on board yet. Often the Wi-Fi capabilities of a device are still limited to only the few functions manufacturers think consumers will use. And the controllability and interconnectedness of a device varies from manufacturer to manufacturer.

But we are certainly headed in the right direction. “Super Sabbath mode” is no longer a thing of the future, it is a thing of the ever-evolving present. Homes can already set their own lights, thermostats, blechs and more to turn on and off at desired times on Shabbos and Yom Tov. (Gosh, we even have a white noise machine in the nursery turning on and off in time for naps and bedtime!) It’s just a matter of time before all of our other appliances catch up and the days of worrying about whether you forgot to turn off the fridge lights are over.

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