Automated kitchen features robot chef

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Moley Robotics' Automated Kitchen

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It may sound like the stuff of futuristic science fiction, but a high-tech kitchen featuring a robot is set to become a commercial reality. The Automated Kitchen was recently unveiled to the public at Hanover Messe in Germany, a leading industrial products trade show. Created by UK-based Moley Robotics, the company claims the robot – the key component of the ensemble – can cook like a seasoned chef.

The prototype system shown in Hanover was developed over two years as a collaboration between Sebastian Conran, who designed the cooking utensils, and Mauro Izzo, Dysegno and the Yachtline company, which created the futuristic kitchen furniture.

The actual robot itself was designed by the Shadow Robot Company, which makes products for the nuclear industry and NASA. It consists of a set of fully articulated hands that are the kitchen's centerpiece and the culmination of almost two decades of R and D. Shadow Robot claims it can reproduce the movements of a human hand as it uses 20 motors, 24 joints and 129 sensors, although it is not so clear how it will locate ingredients as neatly as it does in the animation video at the bottom of the page.

Moley Robotics claims the system does not cook like a machine, as it reproduces human movements. To do that, the company utilized the services of a real, flesh-and-bone chef to teach the prototype robot extra dexterity – and chutzpah.

Tim Anderson, winner of the BBC Master Chef competition, developed a crab bisque dish to test the system’s capabilities. He was then put in a studio so he could be recorded in 3D while cooking the dish. Every detail and action was then translated into digital movement using bespoke algorithms created by Moley and Shadow teams, as well as Stanford University (US) and SSSUP Pisa (Italy).

This way, the robot actually behaves like a machine version of the celebrity chef, even emulating the OK gesture he makes to sign off his work.

"To be honest, I didn’t think this was possible," said Anderson. "I chose crab bisque as a dish because it’s a real challenge for human chef to make well, never mind a machine. 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."

But don’t get too excited just yet, as a consumer version is at least two years away. In the meantime you may want to check out this other robotic kitchen to see what the future holds for foodies with a passion for technology.

Moley Robotics is now working on scaling down the automated kitchen for the consumer market and kitchens of an average size. They predict the retail versions will be more compact, with smaller control arms and more functionality, including a small built-in refrigerator and a dishwasher to complement a professional-grade hob and oven.

The company is reaching out to a range of possible collaborators such as designers, homebuilders, kitchen installers and food suppliers to bring the system to the mass market.

When it launches in 2017, it will be supported by a digital library of over 2,000 dishes. Moley envisages that celebrity chefs will embrace 3D cooking downloads to add extra value to the cookbook market. Anyone will be able to upload their favorite recipes to the digital library and collaborate to what is being called the "iTunes for food".

Some readers may wonder whether a robot could actually take the fun away from cooking, since for many people preparing food is a great way to relax and be creative. Moley says that the idea is not to just save labor. Rather, he claims that it is a technology that can help users explore different cuisines and even even become better cooks.

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