Our good friends in Japan are at it again. They have created a legion of robots specifically designed to serve and cook food in what they perceive as an automated future. There are a number of robots already in the development and testing stages that make pancakes, serve sushi, slice cucumbers, and some that even take and deliver beverage orders.
At a ramen noodle shop in Nagoya, Japan, a pair of robotic arms serve up 80 bowls of noodles a day to customers. When it’s slow, the robots act out a scripted comedy routine and spar with knives.
A $200,000 ramen robot is in use at the Momozono Robot Ramen shop in Yamanashi, Japan. Customers can order their noodles, broth and sauce on a computer screen and have their custom-made bowls delivered in about two minutes.
A chest high robot called “Snackbot” — about the size of R2-D2 — navigates through hallways and congested areas, detects individuals moving near it; recognizes when someone that it knows approaches, and distinguish new objects. “Hello, I’m the Snackbot,” says the robot. “Here is your order. I believe it was a granola bar, right? All right, go ahead and take your snack. I’m sure it would be good, but I wouldn’t know. I prefer a snack of electricity.”
In 2006, Fanxing Science and Technology, a company in Shenzhen, China, designed an AIC-AI Cooking Robot that fries, bakes, boils and steams Chinese delicacies.
Dr. Heather Knight, a roboticist at the NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory, said that the industry is trying to change the perception of robots. “The Japanese [Japan is the world’s No. 1 robot maker] have always been more comfortable with it,” says Dr. Knight, “but particularly in the West, there’s this whole Frankenstein thing that if we try to make something in the image of man, to make a new creature, we’re stealing the role of God, and it’s going to turn out wrong because that’s not our role,” she said.
Dr. Knight believes to change this perception, one of the fastest ways to people’s hearts and minds is with food. We’ll see. Alice B. Toklas may have won a few hearts with her brownies, but knife wielding robots may take awhile — especially since the homicidal HAL 9000 computer is still quite indelible in movie going minds in the West.
For now, let’s take a look see at some recent developments in the robotic food world.
Wine-identifying Sommelier Robot
The wine-identifying Sommelier Robot jointly developed by NEC System Technologies, Ltd. and Mie University, was entered into the Guinness Book of Records in June 2007 as the first robot sommelier. It can identify more than a dozen brands and flavors of wine, made possible by enhancing the sensor’s analysis precision.
Health and Food Advice Robot
The “Health and Food Advice Robot,” utilizes Infrared Spectroscopic Technology, along with Robotic Technology, and Pattern Recognition Technology. NEC System Technologies, Ltd. developed a robot that uses a sensor capable of examining the taste of food. The robot can identify food by name and list its ingredients. It also provides advice on health issues based on the food information gathered.
Yaskawa-kun The Ice Cream Selling Robot
Yaskawa-kun in an ice cream vending robot in use at Tokyo Summerland waterpark. Orders are made via touchscreen. After touchscreen orders, customers can watch through a glass window as the robot assembles their ice cream, complete with a selection of toppings. Yaskawa-kun was funded by a major Japanese bank and a leading advertising agency.
Sushi Making Robot
The sushi robot known as “Chef Robot model M-430iA hand type H” [see photo], does not actually make sushi. This robot only places sushi on your plate. There are automated sushi making robotic systems that can produce hundreds of sushi rolls per hour, like the Tomoe MSR-3000W, which is reportedly the highest speed sushi maker in the world — making 50pcs/minute (3,000pcs/hour) — [see photo]. The table and the hopper were made low to improve working efficiency. The machine has a touch type control panel.
The Robo Cafe’s Waiter-Bots
According to Loz Blain at gizmag.com, Robo Cafe is a restaurant designed to operate as efficiently as possible with the absolute minimum human workforce. In buildings designed with small horizontal pathways leading from the kitchen to all the tables, a small team of waiter robots can theoretically service every table in the house when they’re summoned by customers. Customers can either order verbally, or via a touch screen on the robot’s belly. Once the order is confirmed, the robot relays it to the kitchen. When the kitchen’s done preparing the food, the robots bring it out to the customers. Thailand has its own version of Waiter-Bots [see video here and here], where orders are placed via touchscreens, and delivered by giant humanoid robots that travel back and forth on a track. Think “Gort” in the The Day The Earth Stood Still.
Manga Coffee Making Robot
Created by a Japanese inventor known under the nickname Clockwork, the Manga Coffee Making Robot is a reduced version of Kondo KHR-2HV and it uses 20 digial KRS-788HV servos plus one GWS-PICO-STD servo motor and they are all controlled by a PCB located in the head. This little robot requires human assistance and is more of a novelty item than an actual automated coffee preparation machine. But it’s real cute.