It's the fridge of the future

Early edition: Jabil teams with Whirlpool on a refrigerator that lets you charge a cell phone or watch a DVD.

Published January 10, 2007

Most refrigerator doors are decorated with sticky fingerprints and family photos. Whirlpool Corp. says that space can be put to better use charging cell phones, playing DVDs or displaying digital photos.

With help from St. Petersburg’s Jabil Circuit Inc., the giant appliance maker expects to bring its “plug-and-play” refrigerator to the market late this year.

Whirlpool’s high-tech fridge with a detachable docking station dubbed “centralpark” was unveiled this week at Jabil’s booth at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas. Want to listen to satellite radio or watch a movie? They’re right on the freezer door, above the ice dispenser.

Matt Nelson, innovation manager at Whirlpool, said the idea is to give consumers the ability to hook just about any  electronic device to the refrigerator’s docking station. Or slide the docking station off for what Nelson calls “an aesthetically perfect refrigerator.’’

“This needs to be going across as many refrigerators as possible to be attractive to the device-makers,” said Nelson, adding that price of the tech-enabled appliances has not yet been finalized.

Brent Tompkins, Jabil’s business unit director, said design work on Whirlpool’s docking station has been taking place both in St. Petersburg and at Jabil’s Auburn Hills, Mich., facility.  

“This needs a very collaborative design process with the device providers themselves,’’ Nelson said. “Jabil can help facilitate those conversations.”