Apparently, having a home cooked meal from the kitchens of Thomas Keller, Alain Ducasse and Gordan Ramsay could become a reality. In 2018, Moley will launch the world’s first fully-automated and integrated intelligent cooking robot—a robotic kitchen that has unlimited access to chefs and their recipes worldwide. So not only can this robotic chef cook over 100 different meals for you, it will clean up after itself too!
According to Mark Oleynik— CEO and Founder of Moley Robotics, the way this machine works is by specifying the number of portions, type of cuisine, dietary restrictions, calorie count, desired ingredients, cooking method, chef, etc. from the recipe library first. Then, with a single tap, you could choose your recipe, place the individual pre-packaged containers of measured, washed and cut ingredients (that you could order through Moley) on designated spots, and press “start” for the cooking process to begin.
Consisting of all the necessary cabinetry, appliances, utensils, and two fully articulated robotic motion capture system (which records each movement of the master chef while wearing special gloves with sensors), among other features, this kitchen could cook anything like a human chef in motion. Currently developing an automatic dishwasher facility, Oleynik foresees the robotic chef to be able to clean the kitchen surfaces after cooking as well.
Among the hundred dishes included in the first version of robotic chef is Tim Anderson’s crab bisque, a particularly difficult recipe that requires striking the right balance between tomatoes, crabmeat and spices. Even though it took Anderson himself five times to make this soup just right with the motion capture system, Oleynik believes this is a testament to the growing power of Artificial Intelligence.
Since the Moley kitchen could essentially cook any downloadable recipe on the internet, the food-robotics-AI startup expects to include a “share and sell” your own recipes feature, where consumers and professional chefs could access and sell their ideas via the “digital style library of recipes” database. Designed to work with anyone who has the desire (and the ability) to cook, this platform for collective creativity and knowledge could become a launching pad for aspiring chefs.
Like many people, I find the idea of a master robot chef at home brilliant yet a little frightening. While the convenience of having a device that could cook anything from the internet is no doubt amazing, but does it really work? For a kitchen that seems so reliant on the internet, what happens if you lose WiFi connection? So as someone with a decent imagination and not enough tech knowledge, my mind went on to visualize this robotic chef chopping aimlessly while I remain frightened and stuck without a meal.
In response to this fear, Oleynik assured me that reliable operation is the single most important requirement for the robot. “A key part of the development process is ensure the safe and consistent operation of the kitchen, within normal parameters,” he said. And while you may need WiFi for pulling in new recipes, recording a new dish or sharing your work, the database of recipes that comes with the kitchen is available offline. What’s more, the robotic kitchen can always be used manually too.
However, beyond the concern for safety, I also wonder if it’s that easy to imitate the unique qualities of a master chef. For instance, noted Austin Gresham, Executive chef at The Kitchen by Wolfgang Puck in Grand Rapids, Michigan,
Professional chefs have to improvise constantly as they prepare dishes. If a recipe says to bake a potato for 25 minutes and the potatoes are more or less dense than the previous batch, then cooking times will vary. I would challenge any machine to make as good a mashed potato (from scratch) as a cook who works for Joel Robuchon. Additionally, pots, pans, ovens, and grills have hot and cold spots. A chef has to quickly improvise and turn sheet pans in ovens, not use certain spots on a grill and certain pans etc.
What’s more, if the robot lacks the key senses of a human being, one must question how it could adjust its pressure to kneading a dough according to its consistency. Virgile Brandel, Executive Chef of Conrad Miami agrees. He added,
Chefs put a little bit of themselves into every meal that is prepared, making no two dishes identical – I believe that it’s because of the Chef’s own personal touch, plating the dish and flavors in the preparation that truly make a quality dish. Most importantly, I think one must engage all five senses in order to prepare the perfect meal.
From a scientist’s perspective, Siddhartha Srinivasa— Finmeccanica Associate Professor in Computer Science at The Robotics Institute of Carnegie Mellon University—considers Moley’s robotic system as an intriguing and potentially disruptive force in the food and tech industries. And while there are recipes that are more forgiving to errors than others, he believes that the technology is still (budget permitting) at least five to ten years away from rendering truly master chef quality meals.
Much like Gresham and Brandel, the robotics expert reckons the greatest challenges facing Moley and its competitors are the tactile and olfactory senses needed to prepare a high-quality meal. He said,
One must also consider the wide range of ingredients out there—Tomatoes don’t all look or taste the same, some vegetables may require pulling the leaves out, while potato skins may require peeling. All this effectively means that engineers have to close the feedback loop of these machines, making sure that they could sense different chemicals in the food, temperatures and react more efficiently.
So given the current state of technology, who would realistically shell out approximately $92,000 for this robotic kitchen?
In Srinivasa’s opinion, there are several potential early adopters of this technology. First, the wealthy tech aficionado who wants to stay up to date with the latest gadgets. Second, hospitals, senior homes and centers that may critically require all the care they need. And lastly, people in need of assisted care who may have insurance coverage for much of the cost.