30-10-2020 | | By Sam Brown
Recently, Miso Robotics has released a kitchen robotic assistant for $30K and has seen a great demand for the system. What does this robot do, what technologies allow it to operate, and will customers feel comfortable with robot cooked food?
One of the most popular forms of fast food is deep-fried food, including chicken, fries, and burgers. These foods are either cooked on an open flat grill or a deep fryer station and require little skill to cook correctly. Thus, of all foods to be automated, it makes sense that fast food would be the prime choice to make such an attempt. One company, called Miso Robotics, have been developing automated cooking systems to remove the need for a chef, and are now taking pre-orders for their latest robotic system. According to Miso Robotics, the $30K has seen large amounts of interest from various restaurant owners and fast food chains and intends to reduce the price over the next few years. The robotic system operates on overhead rails that allow it to move around the kitchen and can cook up to 19 different food items, including chicken, fries, onion rings, and hash browns. The back-end of the robotic system, which controls each robotic station is called ChefUI, and this UI allows for other kitchen staff to interact with the robotic system via a 15.6-inch touchscreen. The robotic system also integrates AI and learning capabilities making it able to reclassify new foods, how to cook them, and how to learn from past mistakes.
What technologies do robotic chefs require?
At first glance, technologies that are important to a robotic chef system would appear to include motor controllers, feedback sensors, and cameras. However, if this were the case, then robotic chefs would have been designed and developed years ago. If one thing has bee made clear with the many decades of attempts, simple code that tells a robotic system how to flip a burger or crack an egg simply does not work as there are too many variables involved.
Arguably, the most important technology in any robotic chef system is artificial intelligence. AI is critical in such a design as it allows for a system to not only understand its environment but learn from it too. Initially, a robotic chef would be shown different foods at different stages of coding, and from this sensory information, the AI would be able to understand the cooking process, and how best to cook food. Furthermore, AI systems also help the robotic chef to recognise various utensils, cooking implements, and food around the kitchen, and none of these need to be placed next to special codes or designated areas so the robot knows where they are. Instead, the robotic system can observe the kitchen, use AI to apply object recognition, and then work around that information to cook food. The importance of AI goes further when the system can be given feedback from customers on the end quality of the food, and this can enable for improvements long term in a similar fashion to experienced chefs.
Robotic chef systems, as they currently stand, cannot smell or taste, meaning that they will not be able to perform catering jobs involved with fine cuisine. The inability to smell and taste also means that such systems may also struggle to recognise quality ingredients from those that may be substandard. Thus, robotic chefs may play a supervisory role as opposed to a mainline chef; ensuring that food doesn’t burn, preventing over boiling, and passing dishes across the kitchen. The Miso Robotic system is a good example of how robotic systems will help kitchen staff as fast food is generally preprepared at a factory and then reheated/recooked in the restaurant. The simplistic cooking style and lack of a need for a trained chef is a simple task for an AI to achieve but is a good industry to develop automated cooking systems further.
One advantage that restaurants may see from such systems is the ability to continue functioning during pandemics such as COVID-19. As robotic systems do not get ill, nor can they pass on infections to customers, they may be able to keep kitchens operational, thus enabling the business to continue operation. Those same robotic systems can also help to reduce staff costs, but this comes with a moral dilemma whereby staff at the lowest skill are being made redundant with few employment alternatives.