Robochef gets cooking
SOME people relish putting on an apron and cooking dinner. Others, though, find cookery a black art best delegated to a domestic helpmeet, a microwave oven or, failing either of those, the local home-delivery service. But Mark Oleynik, a Russian-born scientist and engineer now based in London, hopes to change this state of affairs by introducing a further option: a robot cook that is as good as a Cordon Bleu chef but which can be installed in an average house. A prototype of his idea, unveiled this week at an industrial fair in Hanover, Germany, has been demonstrating its culinary prowess in public, by whipping up an excellent crab bisque.
Specialised cooking devices, such as Thermomix, made by Vorwerk, a German firm, do already exist. These, though, are essentially food-processors with bells and whistles. Dr Oleynik has taken a different approach. Instead of building a complex food-processor, he has set out to make his machine resemble a mini-kitchen, complete with conventional appliances and utensils. This can, in principle, be used to cook more or less anything. A pair of dexterous robotic hands, suspended from the ceiling, assemble the ingredients, mix them, and cook them in pots and pans as required, on a hob or in an oven. When the dish is ready, they then serve it with the flourish of a professional.
The robochef’s hands are human-sized, and have jointed fingers and thumbs. They are made by Shadow Robot, another British firm, which has supplied similar hands to several research organisations, including America’s space agency, NASA. Teams from Stanford University, in California, and the Sant’Anna School of Advanced Studies, in Pisa, Italy, also worked on the project. Dr Oleynik’s company, Moley Robotics, hopes to have the first commercial model on sale in 2017, with a price tag of around £10,000 ($15,000).
The machine’s finesse comes because its hands are copying the actions of a particular human chef, who has cooked the recipe specially, in order to provide a template for the robot to copy. The chef in question wears special gloves, fitted with sensors, for this demonstration. Dr Oleynik’s team also shoot multiple videos of it, from different angles. These various bits of data are then synthesised into a three-dimensional representation of what the chef did while preparing the dish. That is turned into an algorithm which can drive the automated kitchen.
Read more: Domestic automation: Robochef gets cooking
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