Future of housework 4 – kitchen robots

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.

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2 Responses to Future of housework 4 – kitchen robots

  1. BilB says:

    Very interesting, again, and great videos one of which I had seen. i started earlier to think out a device to improve on the Jamie Oliver cooker but quickly got bogged down in the fact that it is little more than a cooking aid and the client still had to do most of the work, Though I did make progress in utilising an induction plate for the cooking (this means that the element did not go into the wash). I hadn’t thought of a robotics approach so this is a good twist. I’ve had a session on this this morning and what I have settled on is a product complex built aound a radial arm column robot. The complex requires a rotating pantry tower in which all ingredients are in dispensing containers, both room temp and refrigerated. the second rotating tower is all of a thermowave/microwave cooker on one side and a dishwasher on the other. In between the two towers is the robot which sweeps over three or four stations which are dispensing, cutting and preparing, cooking and plating. There is also an implement docking station.

    So without going into detail extensively I think that such an arrangement could be put together (volume) for around $10,000. Not that bad when you consider that it provides ovens, dishwasher, pantry cupboard, refrigerator, stove top, food processor, and weighing station, all in one ensemble. The “AutoChef” would also be able to be fully operated manually without the use of the robot, or operated in manual assist mode.

    So if you wanted to have a hightech flat and be able to text in your dinner requirement before leaving the office, it is entirely possible.

    I see the robot hand as being a red herring, not a road block. In the human interface world all cooking implements have handles which are all conceptually exactly the same, so in the interim robot world all that is required is a suitable grip interface and the robot can perform the rest with an adequate supply of implements. There is the issue of feel but I don’t know that it is a requirement for this exercise other than being able to sense a human presense and not mame him/her (note the order) accidentally.

    One glaring concern would food that has gone off. spontaneously. i must look to see how far “sniffers” have come.

    Anyway I judge this task as achieveable in the near future.

    • Neat idea. It’s a repeat of the situation with factory automation – rather than rebuild the robot to suit the factory, rebuild the factory to suit the robot.

      The question with a system like this is how much you would have to change the world to adapt to the robot. Utensils/implements would be an issue – will the system work only with the crockery provided, or will it cope with somebody’s favourites.

      Similarly, there’s a question of how you cope with expansion and updates of individual modules – and how open do you make the architecture?

      But I reckon you’re right – this might well be something worth exploring further. I’d be interested in discussing a more fully-worked proposal – drop me a line at your convenience.

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