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Time for Robo-Chefs…!!!

Don’t have time to cook breakfast in the morning? Or tired and don’t feel like cooking dinner… In the future, a robotic kitchen may take care of that for you. The robotic household help has been the ultimate in futuristic dream products.British engineer Mark Oleynik and his team over at Moley Robotics unveiled a robot chef comprised of two robotic arms in a specially designed kitchen, which includes a stove top, utensils and a sink, the device is able to reproduce the movements of a human chef in order to create a meal from scratch. The robot could then do everything from assembling and chopping all the ingredients, grasping utensils, pots, dishes, doing the cooking on the hob or in the oven, and finishing up by cleaning the dirty pans. The robot learns the movements after they are performed by a human chef, captured on a 3D camera and uploaded into the computer which is turned into an algorithm driving the automated kitchen.

The robochef’s hands are human-sized, and have jointed fingers and thumbs.
The robochef’s hands are human-sized, and have jointed fingers and thumbs. 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.

Inventor Mark Oleynik, a computer scientist, said that the limbs, are able to “faithfully reproduce the movements of a human hand”. The hands themselves are sophisticated creations, made up of 24 motors, 26 microcontrollers, and 129 sensors, with a sophisticated operating system called ROS, to cook food better than a human chef. Shadow Robot Company, a NASA robotics supplier, created the arms, which replicate movements in the arms, hands, shoulders, wrist, fingers and elbows.

There is also a thermometer for keeping an eye on the temperature of raw ingredients and stop them from going off; the Moley team says a future version could have synthetic hands and be able to wash itself after handling raw meat. Another feature is the protective glass front and fire extinguisher system, making the robot safe to use around children and when you are not at home.

Moley Robotics demonstrated its concept at this year’s Hannover Messe, a big trade fair for industrial technology held annually in Germany. At demonstration, the robotic chef prepared a bowl of crab bisque from a recipe created by Tim Anderson, winner of the BBC’s Masterchef competition in 2011, in just under 30 minutes. Mr Anderson was originally recorded making the dish wearing motion sensor gloves, and the robot was then programmed to imitate his movements down to the tiniest detail.

Eventually, Moley hopes to produce a version complete with cameras so that users can teach it to create their own dishes, which can then be uploaded to a digital recipe library and shared with other people. They also want later models to be capable of dealing with tricky things like stopping mixing at the appropriate time to prevent splitting or over-beating.

Don’t be afraid professional chefs; robot will not replace you. Not yet, at least, because it won’t try and improvise or use an intuition to a dish. It also lacks spontaneity. Moreover robot can’t taste or smell both critical abilities when it comes to cooking. It can’t really understand flavours.

It doesn’t pick things up better than humans, though. Because it can’t see, it can only recognise an ingredient if it has been placed in a pre-determined position. Otherwise, its attempt to reach for an item will find it doing robotic jazz hands into empty air or sending mixing bowls spinning. The machine has yet to be taught to use knives and is entirely limited by the movements and speed of its tutor.

According to Moley’s website, the firm hopes to bring a consumer version to market by 2017 that will feature several additions, including a library of thousands of recipes, a dishwasher and a refrigerator. Marvellous!! You will even be able to control it remotely using an app, which means you could order your dish to be ready for when you get home.

If the hands can be taught to cook, according to the designers, there’s no reason they couldn’t play the piano, learn carpentry and more. But the company’s primary aim is to produce a technology that addresses basic human needs and improves day-to-day quality of life.

It is designed only for the home. Of course, it is designed for the ridiculously wealthy home with a price tag of around £10,000 ($15,000). According to Moley, it’s not an industrial device as it’s not a device that works at 10-times normal speed. It’s a device that moves like us, and at the same speed as we do. But I think this would be a great asset for hotels where you need to satisfy a wide range of customers, because robots can do multi tasking, i.e. same robot can cook multiple dishes, thereby in effect it can replicate same dishes for many customers in short time span.  It would be great if they can reduce its cost of construction. I hope in future either Moley or some other will definitely come with much cheaper and efficient version, because more research on  somewhat similar technologies are already going on countries like Japan and India.

In the current prototype, the ingredients need to be prepared in advance (the robot has not yet been trusted with knives) and placed at preset positions for it to pick up. That, though, should change with future versions. Moley wants to make the unit slightly more compact, and give it a built-in refrigerator in which a stock of ingredients can be stored and selected by the robot as required and dishwasher which can help to clean up after itself. With further development the automated kitchen will be made more compact and gain more equipment. And it can also, if desired, be switched to manual, because all of the implements and utensils involved are pieces of normal kitchenware. At the present time, it seems that the robochef will be most useful as an assistant, not an individual cook, but time will tell as the device come closer to fruition.

According to inventors, for anyone who want to remake the taste exactly the same way, this would be a recipe re-maker again and again. It’s because it can replicate taste by mimicking the movements of a human chef in a controlled way, every single time. I.e. the Robotic Kitchen is essentially a culinary photocopier, producing batches of crab bisque (the dish that is demonstrated) entirely from memory. What better way to learn how to make a complex dish than to watch a pair of humanoid hands make it a few times. In short it can teach us how to become better cooks. Remember, only humans make variations, robots are reliable as they make guarantee dishes each time.

I am sure this would be a great effort but what I fear is  whether it turns out to be useless. I have a small doubt: is it really possible to reproduce exact taste of a chef from any part of the world in our kitchen using robochef? As all know, no ingredient is alike, even salt. The quality may vary from place to place and also if your room temperature is colder than the initial run, or if the ingredients are a few degrees warmer, or if raw ingredients are shaped ever-so-slightly differently than before, it all falls apart. Also I am not convinced by the so called “humanoid hands”, my suggestion is robotic hand from inspiration from elephant’s trunk which is much more flexible. I think there is a room for improvement in computer vision, and additional sensors need to be developed for better working.

The product is still two years away from market. The Robo-chef is hugely impressive and this could be a very big and innocuous step toward the future of home life. I hope it will bring the next industrial revolution to the homes of average consumers. Also sees a future where the Moley robot could help out all over the house.