Although I’ve never met him, and he has never personally cooked for me, I know from first-hand experience that crab bisque made by BBC MasterChef winner Tim Anderson tastes brilliant. He should be worried for his job, because a robot flawlessly recreated Anderson’s crab bisque, even mimicking the chef’s own hand movements during the process.
The prototype, from Moley Robotics Kitchen, could be the kitchen gadget to end all kitchen gadgets. There are two robotic arms, derived from those used for industrial purposes, with five-fingered hands at the end, all driven by dozens of motors, joints, and sensors, as we reported in April 2015. They’re mounted over a traditional kitchen top with a preparation surface, a hob, an oven, and an oven. This is where the magic happens.
At the moment it only has one recipe in its repertoire, Anderson’s crab bisque. It’s worth noting that it was also making the bisque last year, so development on that front seems a bit slow. Watching the robot cook is truly something special, though. Once the program activates, the arm turns on the hob and picks up ingredients from containers, which are laid out in the preparation area, sitting in specially marked out sections. They’re poured into the saucepan, heated, stirred and whisked, all to the exact method employed by the original chef. Moley Robotics plans to launch the kitchen with a library of recipes, ready for it to cook on your command.
The precision movement is mesmerizing, except when there’s nothing for the hands to do, at which time they hang over the steaming pan almost as if they’re casting a spell over a cauldron. The entire process took about 25 minutes, which is far quicker than an inexperienced chef would take to put together crab bisque. It ends with the robot arms serving the dish in a bowl, complete with garnish, so all you have to do is pick up a spoon.
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You’re seeing an early working version of the robotic kitchen, and the final version, which is expected to be on sale in 2018, will look a little different. For a start, it’ll be considerably more compact and should happily fit inside a modest kitchen. The robot arms will retract out of sight in a compartment above the cooking surface, and all the associated mechanics will be hidden away. If you’re worried about being knocked out of the way by a robot arm, or an inquisitive cat suddenly being added to the pot because it was in the wrong place; don’t be. It’s a contained system, with a sliding see-though door that has to be in place before it gets going.
Having a robotic pair of arms in the kitchen, especially ones that started life being designed for factory use, probably makes you think it’ll be very noisy and hugely expensive to run. Even this early version was very quiet, with only a barely audible whirr when the arms moved around. According to Moley Robotics CEO Mark Oleynik, it’ll add little more than a boiling kettle does to your energy bill.
Let’s just recap. This is a machine that will cook amazing recipes to perfection, every time, but is almost silent, and doesn’t cost very much to run. It’ll keep you and errant pets safe, won’t take over the kitchen, and you can still use all the equipment like you would normally if you fancy doing some old-school cooking. It’s designed to bring the magic of incredible food to life right in your kitchen, without the need to employ a chef, travel the world every weekend to try out a new dish, and to remove the hassle of cooking after a long day at work.
There has to be some drawbacks, right? Yes. It doesn’t prepare the ingredients, so you have to get everything set up before it’s ready to cook, in a similar way to loading up a dishwasher before it can deal with the hard part. On that subject, it doesn’t clean up after itself, and in our demo, rather unceremoniously drops empty containers into the sink for you to deal with later on. It’s hard to complain though, when there’s a brilliantly cooked meal in the middle of these two things. However, we haven’t talked about the price yet.
It’s not going to be cheap
The robot chef will cost between $75,000 and $100,000. Now, if your house cost upward of $5 million, this isn’t going to make much of a difference. Additionally, paying a top chef to cook for you everyday probably wouldn’t be all that different in overall cost either. However, it does put it way out of reach for the majority of us. It’s also a lot more than initially expected, which raises some flags. The Moley Robotics kitchen was first revealed in 2015, when the BBC reported a consumer version would eventually released for around $12,500.
While Moley’s vision of a robo-chef in the kitchen is clear, it was less so for whether specific packaging, containers, or utensils would be required for the Moley to operate. Oleynik says no, but aside from this sounding like a missed opportunity for revenue, it also sounds like a potential problem for safety or accuracy when the robot’s at work. Because the robotic kitchen isn’t ready for sale yet, these are still aspects that are up in the air, and may change before the eventual release.
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Regardless, watching a pair of robotic arms make a spectacular crab bisque was about as futuristic as tech in the home gets at the moment. We’re hoping that in a couple of year’s time, a rich friend invites us round to see the same demonstration again, but this time with the bisque as the starter to a Michelin-star quality four-course dinner, all prepared by a helpful robot.