GOOD

Robot Chef Makes Bisque Like a Pro

Moley Robotics hopes to have its futuristic automated kitchens on the market in the next two years

Image courtesy of Moley Robotics

On Tuesday at Hannover Messe, a huge industrial trade show in Germany, a bodiless pair of robotic arms made a pot of crab bisque. Each arm supported a creepily detailed mechanical hand built with 24 joints, 20 motors, and 129 sensors to mimic the exact movement of human appendages. These nimble hands are essential, because this automated chef, invented by Moley Robotics, learns to cook by imitating the precise movements of people, in this case 2011 Top Chef winner Tim Anderson, whose bisque recipe the machine has now mastered.


The Economist reports that the robot is programmed with a set of sensor-equipped gloves that capture the motions of a human as he or she prepares a dish. This data is combined with information gathered by filming the demonstration to create a 3D model that guides the robot through the cooking process.

To create the system, Moley Robotics teamed up with the London-based Shadow Robot Company, which developed the advanced mechanical hands necessary to make the project work. According to the International Business Times, Shadow’s hands are “also used by NASA and can pick up and interact with almost all kitchen equipment.”

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Scientist Mark Oleynik, founder of Moley Robotics, seems aware of the potential to freak people out with his uncanny invention. He tells Time that although the robot is capable of moving through kitchen activities at super speed, he created it to move at a normal human pace, as not to scare anyone. And according to the Economist, the device has “not yet been trusted with knives,” limiting it to recipes made with prepped ingredients. “We want people to be comfortable with this device,” Oleynik told the BBC.

Moley plans to have a market-ready version of the automated chef on the market by 2017, with a catalog of about 2,000 recipes. Oleynik hopes that not only will the machine be able to reproduce each dish perfectly every time, but it will also be able to use the style of a particular chef in each preparation, leading to a theoretical “iTunes for food”—prominent chefs can upload templates of themselves cooking, and users can reproduce the experience at home. The consumer version will include a fridge and a dishwasher, and has a target price of about $15,000.

This has been a big week for technology and cooking—on Tuesday, IBM and the Institute of Culinary Education released Cognitive Cooking with Chef Watson, a book of recipes concocted by the Watson artificial intelligence program using food pairing algorithms.

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