Have you ever walked into your kitchen, thought of something delicious that you’d want to eat, but just don’t have the time or energy to make it? That’s a problem creeping up on people living in homes where the parents or adults responsible for feeding the rest just don’t have the time to do things any more. Either they’re swamped with work, or don’t have enough energy, or just want to sit down and play some games, and they’ll be damned if they need to get up now and make a Kudu roast with baked potatoes, cauliflower with cheese sauce, mashed butternut, carrots and cream spinach. Well, there might just be something for you from Moley Robotics, a company that wants to start selling robot chefs in the near future that will cook gourmet meals in your home without supervision.
This robot, which consists of a pair of articulating arms with robot hands (and no buzz saw in sight), is called the “Robochef” (really imaginative naming there, guys), and was displayed at the Hannover Messe technology fair in Germany this past week. Moley Robotics is currently prototyping several variations of the robot and is working to make smaller versions of the prototype on display. They estimate they will be able to sell these kitchen wizards for about $15,000 including fitment and testing, but your kitchen’s roof may need a bit of work to make sure it can hold the weight of the pair of arms as they move about.
The robot doesn’t think for itself, though. Rather, it is trained by an actual chef who wears gloves with sensors attached to his hand and arms, and it recreates every movement the original chef made while cooking the food. This is essentially making a macro recording of your movements, so it also includes the time taken for things to be done, since the robot can’t tell if anything is cooked properly or not. Moley Robotics hopes to have up to 2000 individual recipes available by the time their product is ready for launch, including giving it the ability to bake as well as wash the dishes.
There are also some limitations to the design as it stands, which are intentional. Moley doesn’t allow it to speed up any part of the cooking process which includes chopping and peeling vegetables, or working with meat. Moley says that part of this is because if the machine works at a speed faster than a human in real life, it will create some mess, which it won’t be able to register because it has no camera sensors. It doesn’t yet register heat either, although this can be added into the design later if they wanted.
It also can’t speed up anything beyond what humans are capable of. Moley Robotics says that in their testing, some of their respondents felt as if their experience was too surreal, and somewhat scary, especially if the robot was working more precisely than them. If you’ve ever heard of the “uncanny valley” in computer graphics, this is pretty similar. There’s actually a pretty freaky collection of examples here – I pretty much crapped my pants on number 4, Showa Hanaka.
As the prototypes get better and more recipes get added to their launch platform, its interesting to posit how this could turn out. Imagine being able to browse from a repository of recipes online by chefs who have been paid to train the robot to make particular dishes. Maybe, one day, you can have the robot make a dish that only Jamie Oliver makes, or you can have it capture your own movements and make things just the way you like them.
As with every industry taken over by robotics, however, there will be some fears initially about the loss of jobs and the loss of vital skills that humans traditionally have learnt on their own. Maybe one day there will be college students who won’t know how to make scrambled eggs!