Mechanical Chef – A Culinary Robot

Around 20 years ago, software industries started to bloom in India. Colloquially, software companies were called “computer company” in rural areas. My grandma was from one such rural place and she didn’t have any idea about softwares and computers. Obviously, as a kid, I was intrigued by computers and would argue with her that computer has super powerful ‘brain’ and it can do many interesting things which we cannot do as humans. Obviously, I too had very little idea about computers then. My grandma, getting annoyed with my argument, would ask me the billion-dollar question, “If computers are so powerful, can it cook rice and give us?”. After 20 years, we have got answer for that question – Mechanical Chef, which automatically cooks hundreds of Indian recipes.

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Technically, Mechanical Chef is not a computer but a robot built with the help of computer programs, advanced microcontrollers, motors etc., Decades have changed but people always remain skeptical about new technological innovations. Now the rise of Artificial Intelligence and Robots raises a new question whether robots will replace many human jobs. That’s true to a certain level. But new technologies will create as much new opportunities as well. This post is not supposed to be a debate whether robots are boon or bane. So, we will quickly move to our culinary robot – Mechanical Chef.

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Cohan, who heads the team of Mechanical Chef, invited us to his office for showing exclusive demo of India’s first culinary robot. We were quite excited to witness a robot preparing a food from scratch. Bangalore’s infamous traffic made our journey to their office a tiresome one. Nevertheless we got energised by Mechanical Chef’s team warm welcome and their demo. We had a lot of questions and they passionately answered every question. We have read about other cooking robots in other countries before going for their demo. Flippy and Moley Robotics are some of the advanced culinary robots our world has right now. But, Flippy is a specialised robot for making only burgers and Moley Robotics built something called Robotic kitchen with 2 robotic arms which can imitate almost all human hand actions. Moley Robotics uses motion capture technology and is trained with famous chef’s recipes. However, those robots were built for big commercial kitchen purposes while Mechanical Chef is built for general public.

20180616_115705 (1) When some robot is built for general public, it should be built with minimum complexity and that’s what makes Mechanical Chef a special one. Instead of incorporating complex motion capture technology or complex motions, they divided cooking into just 3 simple classes of action – dropping, heating and stirring or sauté.  And, just with this 3 simple actions, around hundreds of Indian recipes can be made. What you see in picture above is the first version of the robot. It can be rather called “Proof of concept”. Their team is actively working on reducing the form factor and give it a sexy look.

How it works?

Cut ingredients were loaded in the designated chambers before starting to cook. In future, their mobile app will guide to load ingredients in correct order. We don’t have to worry too much about the amount of ingredients as the robot is in-built with volumetric and weight measurement capabilities. It also supports 3 stoves at a time and hence Tadka (seasoning) was prepared in parallel when the Rice plus Pulses are almost cooked in another stove. They have done power optimisation well enough to support multiple stoves and motors in action. Since every recipe is programmed with 3 simple actions, it is easy for them to configure new recipe.

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We were served with delicious Bisibele Bath at the end of their demo. Honestly, If I hadn’t witnessed their robot preparing this, I would have believed that it was prepared by humans. It was perfect. Sometimes lack of something can bring out something best. They added “Tamarind powder” instead of adding tamarind paste/water and it gave a nice flavour.

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What is missing?

We liked their demo however we also had some feedback for their product. Following are the things we want to have in their second version:

  1. Automate ingredients cutting process
  2. Add pressure cooking & grilling options
  3. Increase the speed of cooking

Here we present you with the video that we took off their demo.

Artificial Intelligence and Machine Learning technologies are transforming computers and robots to be creative. How do you feel about that? Would you like to have a cooking robot in your home? Please comment with your feedback. Thanks.

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