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Moley Robotics introduces ‘robochef’ at Hannover Messe trade fair in Germany
When I was growing up, all I wanted was Rosie from the Jetsons to cater to my every household need – which mostly translated to wanting her to make and bring freshly baked chocolate chip cookies to me on demand. As an adult, I still dream of my own kitchen robot – one who will whip up something delicious and nutritious for my family that’s hot and ready when we want to eat and, if I’m being honest, will also clean up after itself. Seems blissful, yet WAY too far out of reach.
But, hold up. This kind of “help in the kitchen” may not be all that far off. I’ve been reading reports out of last week’s Hannover Messe industrial robotics trade fair in Germany that a company called Moley Robotics has debuted a prototype “robochef,” a machine consisting of two fully functional robotic arms atop a cooking area, complete with utensils, a sink and an oven. The Shadow Robot Company, which also provides robotics components to NASA, created the arms for this particular robot, with articulations at the fingers, wrists, elbows and shoulders. According to the Shadow Robot Company, the device uses 20 motors, 24 joints and 129 sensors to recreate the movements of human arms.
Kitchen Robot Image A
Interestingly, this particular system records human actions in 3-D then translates those into really precise movements to be mimicked by the machine. For this particular demonstration version, Moley Robotics didn’t cut corners – engaging BBC "MasterChef" winner Tim Anderson as the model to mimic. Anderson “taught” the robochef to make crab bisque in a motion-capture studio. To do so, his movements were captured as he made the bisque, and were then translated into algorithms that allow the robot to cook the crab bisque exactly as Anderson had.
"To be honest, I didn't think this was possible. I chose crab bisque as a dish because it's a real challenge for human chef to make well, never mind a machine," Anderson said. "Having seen – and tasted – the results for myself, I am stunned. This is the beginning of something really significant: a whole new opportunity for producing good food and for people to explore the world's cuisines. It's very exciting."
iTunes for Food
When it is eventually ready for commercial applications, the robochef will come standard with a library of more than 2,000 pre-loaded recipes, which Moley Robotics is calling “iTunes for Food.” As Moley Robotics explores additional capabilities and functions for the device, the robochef continues to evolve. The firm anticipates introducing a version for consumers by 2017, with additions such as a dishwasher and a refrigerator. There are even talks of adding in remote control via an app, meaning users could select a dish from the thousands in the library to be ready and waiting when you arrive home.
Kitchen Robot Image B
In the version that debuted at Hannover Messe, ingredients must be placed in predetermined locations, from where the robot – in a choreographed pattern – picks them up and uses them as it has been pre-programmed to do. Over time, Moley Robotics even hopes to create a version of the robochef with cameras so that users can teach the device to mimic the creation of their own dishes. Those recipes could later be uploaded to a digital recipe library and shared with others.
"In the commercial version, we will integrate a 3D vision system, which is now under development, for motion tracking; ingredients type, shape, position and orientation recognition; and quality check procedure during each cooking operation," said Dr. Mark Oleynik, founder of Moley Robotics.
They also want later models to be capable of dealing with nuances like understanding when it is time to stop mixing something in order to prevent over-beating or splitting.
“Something would change; we would see it in the sensor data. Maybe something gets stiffer or softer,” explained Rich Walker of the Shadow Robot Company. “We should be able to sense that and use it as the point to transition to the next stage of the cooking process.”
Steep price tag
As with most advanced technologies, the robochef will not be inexpensive when it finally does become available for commercial use. Estimates put the price tag between $15,000 and $72,000, depending upon how many bells and whistles you’d like your version to have, but all things considered, it just may be worth it for yummy, healthful meals cooked on demand and cleaned up after.
If you’d like to be first in line for a fully-robotic chef, you can sign up on the Moley Robotics’ website to be alerted of the latest news and opportunities to reserve.