In Part 3, I noted that one of the most time consuming tasks in the modern kitchen is simply moving objects from place to place; the utility of high-performance but specialized kitchen tools is limited by the time it takes to retrieve them from the cupboard, set them on the bench, wash them, then put them away. Washing dishes may be mostly automated, but loading and unloading the dishwasher isn’t. And so on.
While better designed kitchens can help to some extent, we are probably reaching diminishing returns in that area. What is required is technology that can automate the process of moving kitchen utensils from place to place; for this, we turn again to the technology of robotics.
The technology of “kitchen assistant robots” is an active field of research, particularly in Japan. This video from Japan is a few years old, but gives a sense of what might be achieved in the future, and the complexity of the task:
The “Justin” robots from the German Aerospace Center (DLR) also give a sense of the state of the art when it comes to manipulating kitchen objects (as well as catching balls)
As can be seen, the state of the art is capable of picking up and manipulating everyday objects, and handling them with much delicacy. But, despite large clusters of computers churning away in the background, they’re pretty slow about it.
That’s not true of all robots, however. This robotic hand is faster than a human one, and remarkably delicate, too:
The subtlety of the hardware and software engineering required to make this kind of thing possible is hugely impressive, and was frankly unimaginable when I started out in computing. And it’s clear that eventually the problems will be solved sufficiently well that robotic hands will fetch and carry in the kitchen for you. But it’s also pretty clear that a practical kitchen assistant robot is some way off. We’ll be loading dishwashers ourselves for some time yet, I’m afraid.