18th April 2015
World's first robotic kitchen to debut in 2017
Moley Robotics has unveiled an automated kitchen system, able to scan and replicate the movements of a human chef to produce recipes.
The world's first automated kitchen system was unveiled this week at Hanover Messe in Germany – the premier industrial robotics show. Developed by tech firm Moley Robotics, it features a dexterous robot integrated into a kitchen that cooks with the skill and flair of a master chef.
The company's goal is to produce a consumer version within two years, supported by an iTunes-style library of recipes that can be downloaded and created by the kitchen. The prototype at the exhibition is the result of two years development and the collaboration of an international team including Sebastian Conran who designed the cooking utensils and Mauro Izzo, DYSEGNO and the Yachtline company, who created the futuristic kitchen furniture.
Two complex, fully articulated hands, made by the Shadow Robot Company, comprise the kitchen's key enabling technology. The product of 18 years' research and development, Shadow's products are used in the nuclear industry and by NASA. Able to reproduce the movements of a human hand with astonishing accuracy, their utility underpins the unique capability of the automated kitchen.
The Moley Robotics system works by capturing human skills in motion. Tim Anderson – culinary innovator and winner of the BBC Master Chef competition – played an integral role in the kitchen's development. He first developed a dish that would test the system's capabilities – a crab bisque – and was then 3D recorded at a special studio cooking it. Every motion and nuance was captured, from the way Tim stirred the liquids to the way he controlled the temperature of the hob. His actions were then translated into elegant digital movement, using bespoke algorithms. The robot doesn't just cook like Tim – in terms of skill, technique and execution it is Tim producing the dish. The kitchen even 'signs off' its work with an 'OK' gesture – just as the chef does.
"To be honest, I didn't think this was possible," he said. "I chose crab bisque as a dish because it's a real challenge for a 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."
Moley Robotics, headquartered in the UK, is now working to scale the technology ready for mass production and installation in regular-sized kitchens. Future iterations will be more compact, with smaller control arms but with added functionality in the form of a built-in refrigerator and dishwasher to complement a professional-grade hob and oven.
The company is working with designers, homebuilders, kitchen installers and food suppliers to promote the system. The mass-market product will be supported by a digital library of over 2,000 dishes when it launches in 2017 and it is envisaged that celebrity chefs will embrace 3D cooking downloads as an appealing addition to the cook book market. Home chefs will be able to upload their favourite recipes too, and so help create the 'iTunes' for food.
Moley Robotics was founded by London-based computer scientist, robotics and healthcare innovator Mark Oleynik. The company's aim is to produce technologies that address basic human needs and improve day-to-day quality of life.
"Whether you love food and want to explore different cuisines, or fancy saving a favourite family recipe for everyone to enjoy for years to come, the Automated Kitchen can do this," says Oleynik. "It is not just a labour saving device – it is a platform for our creativity. It can even teach us how to become better cooks!"
The robotic hands demonstrated this week offer a glimpse of the not-too-distant future, when even greater advances in movement, flexibility, touch and object recognition will have been achieved. Experts believe that near-perfect recreations of human hands, operating in a wide variety of environments, will be possible in just 10 years' time.