Experimenting with different flavours and techniques to produce something delicious can be as satisfying as sitting down and eating it -- but if you don't have the time to cook every night, it can quickly become just another chore.
We're not sure that Moley Robotics' solution would be appropriate for the time-poor working class, at least not straight away, but it sure makes us sit up and think of pretty exciting implications for the future of home automation.
What is it? A portable kitchen module, including stovetop, oven, sink, utensils, and a pair of fully articulated robotic arms, programmed to follow recipes to create dishes just like a master chef.
The arms, created by NASA robotics supplier the Shadow Robot Company, are able to replicate the movements of human hands and arms, with articulations at shoulder, elbow, wrist and fingers. But they are just part of the equation. The other part is BBC "MasterChef" winner Tim Anderson, whose abilities in the kitchen were carefully programmed into the robotic arms.
Tim created a dish for the robot, a crab bisque, designed to challenge its capabilities. He then cooked the dish, his movements recorded in 3D. These movements were then translated into algorithms by a team at Moley in collaboration with the Shadow Robot Company, Stamford University and Sant'Anna School of Advanced Studies in Pisa, Italy. This allowed the robot to cook the bisque almost exactly like Anderson.
"To be honest, I didn't think this was possible. I chose crab bisque as a dish because it's a real challenge for human chef to make well, never mind a machine," Anderson said.
"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."
The robot, which debuted at the Hannover Messe industrial robotics trade fair in Hannover, Germany, offering its creation to passersby, will come equipped with what the company calls the "iTunes for food" when it hits the mass market. This is a digital library of over 2,000 recipes that the robot will be able to cook; Moley Robotics hopes that it will be seen by celebrity chefs as a way to expand their cookbook offerings.
There is still some work to be done on the kitchen. The current version has no optics; ingredients have to be placed in set locations, and the robot, following its choreographed program, picks them up from those set locations.
"The existing prototype do not have any vision system and we define the fixed places for any kind of ingredients containers and other objects. Also we created the special kitchen tools' handles for robotic/human hand operation to avoid any tool backlash and misorientation during the cooking process. This prototype is created to prove the concept -- to cook an identical complicated dish unlimited numbers of time without fail results," Moley Robotics founder Dr Mark Oleynik said.
"In the commercial version, we will integrate a 3D vision system, which is now under development, for motion tracking; ingredients type, shape, position and orientation recognition; and quality check procedure during each cooking operation."
The robotic kitchen modules will be available, the company promises, in a variety of configurations, ranging between $15,000 and $72,000, in 2017 and 2018. The demo module on display in Germany will be available in 2016, with pricing available on application. You can sign up for more info by clicking the "Reservation" button on the right-hand side of the Moley website homepage.
Updated April 22, 2015, 1.32 pm AEST: Added statement from Dr Oleynik about the development of robotic vision.