Automating Food Preparation at Home: A Closer Look at Bots That Cook
Robots have seen widespread adoption across multiple industries, and now, they’re moving into the home. Consumer robots like dishwashers and robotic vacuums have been available for decades, but now they’re becoming more advanced, resembling commercial bots. One of the best places to find these robots is in the kitchen.
Generally speaking, automation is ideal for repetitive, predictable tasks, which doesn’t describe much in the kitchen. Preparing food often involves some amount of nuance and reacting on the fly to different variables. This unpredictability is why kitchen robots haven’t seen much use. That is, until now.
Experts predict there will be 482.8 million smart homes by 2025. The home automation market is booming, and robotic kitchens are a natural extension of these systems. Automated food preparation is already more prevalent than many may realize.
Like in most segments, the commercial kitchen space has embraced robotics before home kitchens have. As more restaurants implement robotics, the same technology will become more accessible and affordable. In turn, home kitchen alternatives will become more popular.
The simplest restaurant robots resemble vending machines. For instance, food robot company Chowbotics makes a robotic salad dispenser called Sally. Customers use a touchscreen to order a personalized salad, then the robot prepares and serves it within seconds. When the pandemic limited interactions between people, robots like this saw skyrocketing demand.
Other restaurant robots are more advanced. Miso Robotics’ Flippy is a robotic fry cook, able to prepare 19 different menu items autonomously, including burgers and hashbrowns. Flippy can cook meat to order, clean the grill and has seen work in multiple establishments from Dodger’s Stadium to White Castle.
Similarly, some bars have started employing Makr Shakr, a robotic bartender. Makr Shakr can manage more than 150 bottles of spirits, creating virtually infinite drink combinations.
As these examples highlight, kitchen robots have seen rising adoption across the restaurant industry. As technology naturally flows from commercial to consumer segments, similar systems are starting to emerge in home kitchens.
Semi-Autonomous Kitchen Appliances
The most common instances of robotics in home kitchens are less flashy than a robot bartender. As the smart home movement has gained momentum, semi-autonomous IoT technologies have appeared throughout the kitchen. These robots may only automate a few smaller tasks, but even marginal improvements save home cooks plenty of time.
Some of today’s grills come with WiFi compatibility, for example. “Alpha Connect” from Grilla Grills connects to users’ phones, sending automatic updates about cooking times and food temperatures. These updates, along with automated temperature adjustments, ensure that even when users are away, they can cook their food precisely to their liking.
Other connected appliances can automate tasks based on user schedules. For example, consumers can set smart coffee machines to start brewing at a specific time of day. When part of a larger IoT ecosystem, they could begin as soon as a smart speaker plays an alarm to wake users up.
There are plenty of other semi-autonomous appliances like automatic soap dispensers, pan stirrers and toasters on the market. While these may not resemble most people’s idea of a robot, they represent a growing automated presence in home kitchens.
Of course, there are more advanced consumer kitchen robots available today, too. Collaborative robots, or cobots, have seen extensive use in industrial settings, and now they’re coming to the kitchen. These robots serve as cooking assistants, performing various tasks to help people prepare meals in their homes.
At the 2021 Consumer Electronics Show (CES), Samsung unveiled the Bot Handy, a robotic helper for various household chores. Bot Handy can put dishes away, grab items from the pantry, pour drinks, set the table and more. While it can’t prepare an entire meal for someone, it can help streamline the process by automating these tasks. Bot Handy isn’t on the market just yet, but it could signal what’s to come in the next few years.
There are other cobots that can make things easier in the kitchen and are already available, too. At the same conference, Samsung revealed the JetBot 90 AI+, a robotic vacuum that can differentiate between objects better than older alternatives. JetBotAI+ and similar technologies can clean up around the kitchen as people cook.
Full Robotic Kitchens
While kitchen cobots have yet to see widespread adoption, robotics companies have already gone a step further. In late 2020, Moley Robotics unveiled the first robotic kitchen, an autonomous system that can automate virtually every part of the cooking process, from prep to dishwashing. It’s not just a concept, either. The Moley Kitchen is already available for sale.
The Moley Kitchen costs more than $248,000, making it inaccessible for most home cooks, but it’s a landmark achievement. The system can prepare more than 5,000 dishes completely autonomously. Users with one of these robots in their home wouldn’t have to do any cooking if they didn’t want to.
Samsung revealed a similar system in early 2019. While not yet available, the Bot Chef features two robotic arms that hang from the ceiling and help with various tasks. It can add spices, stir pots, chop vegetables, clean dishes and more. It can’t handle as much as the Moley Kitchen, but it does automate many kitchen tasks and can learn new skills over time.
The Future of Kitchen Robots
As technology advances, systems like this will be able to do more and do it for less. Full robotic kitchens like the Bot Chef and Moley Kitchen could become the norm in restaurants before moving into the consumer space. They’ll first populate the kitchens of wealthier consumers, then, as they become more affordable, slowly become commonplace.
Robotic chefs won’t likely replace human cooks entirely. People enjoy cooking, so as these robots appear in more kitchens, they’ll likely work as assistants more than chefs. This trend is already starting to take place.
Semi-autonomous kitchen appliances are already commonplace, so cobots are next. Within the next few years, it may not be uncommon to see robotic assistants in home kitchens. As their functionality grows, more people will want one, leading to exponential growth.
Kitchens Are Becoming Increasingly Automated
People spend a lot of time in the kitchen, so it’s only natural that kitchen automation would take off. As the average home features an increasing number of automated features, kitchen robotics are becoming more commonplace.
Kitchen robots can be a tremendous help, from saving busy users time to preparing restaurant-grade dishes for food enthusiasts. While fully automated kitchens may seem like something out of the future, they may be closer than many people think.
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