Science | Design & Technology

The robot chef that can mix, chew and taste

Will cooking become a lost art? Scientists who announced the breakthrough yesterday predict robot chefs will play a major role in busy households and restaurants. “Good morning, Sarah,” says the robot. “What would you like for breakfast?” Sarah smiles. “Two pancakes, please, Robbie,” she says. “Thin, so I can put lemon and sugar on them and roll them up.” The robot beeps. “Affirmative,” it says. “Recipe adjusted to allow for lemon and sugar. Two pancakes to suit Sarah’s tastebuds coming up.” This could become a common scenario, thanks to work at Cambridge University. Up until now, robots have only been able to “taste” by taking one sample from a dish and testing to see how much salt it contains. But for humans, the taste of food changes as we chew it. So the new technology simulates the chewing process, and takes readings of the saltiness at different stages. The robot looks similar to the mechanical arms that are seen in car factories, but is designed for homes and restaurants. “There are many electronic ‘tongues’ you could technically use, but none of them is small enough and cheap enough to use in the kitchen,” explains a member of the research team, Grzegorz Sochacki. “We believe that the development of robotic chefs will play a major role in busy households,” says Dr Muhammad Chughtai, senior scientist at Beko. The advances in robot cooking are extraordinary. In 2018, a Californian company produced a robot arm called Flippy, which turns over hamburgers when they are sufficiently cooked on one side. The company has now created Chippy, a robot which makes tortilla chips.  In 2019 a restaurant opened in France serving robot-made pizzas. The Pazzi machine can produce up to 80 pizzas an hour. The restaurant has had very good reviews. Last year a London company, Moley, unveiled a robotic kitchen with mechanical arms and hands on a rail. Costing £248,000, it can prepare 30 different dishes.    Will cooking become a lost art? Tasty microchips Yes: The whole movement in our society is towards convenience. If there are machines to cook for us, people will stop learning to prepare food for themselves and will forget how to do it. No: Many people cook not just to put food on the table, but because they really enjoy the process. And good cooks can improvise and invent new recipes in ways that the machine never could. Or... Shopping rather cooking will become the most important part of food preparation. Robots will all cook in the same way, but only humans will be able to pick out the best ingredients. KeywordsTastebuds - A tongue usually has 2,000 and 8,000 tastebuds, which each last for about 10 days. 

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