Who hasn?t come home from a long day at the office and wished that a personal chef had taken over the kitchen to prepare and serve a hot, home-cooked meal?
Takeout and delivery services are all well and good, but there?s nothing like dinner from your own kitchen. Soon, this might not be a pipe dream, thanks to robots, artificial intelligence, and smart technology.
Robotics Business Review runs down some of the more interesting technological developments and research in the kitchen of the future, from robots shopping for your food to a virtual kitchen experience in which you can dream up any meal, have it cooked, and delivered to your door. All emphasize efficiencies in time, space, and energy.
The Virtual Meal
In the most futuristic vision, you won?t even have a kitchen?you?ll share a central one with fellow apartment dwellers, and experience it virtually, Matrix-like, through a helmet-like headset that will allow you to choose meals, ingredients, and cooking techniques, and have the meal cooked and delivered to your apartment.
Meant for communal living situations such as hotels and apartments, the Kitchen Hideway, developed by Daniel Dobrogorksy, who is studying Industrial Design & Mechanical Engineering at Monash University in Melbourne, Australia, does away with individual kitchens, placing a central kitchen in the apartment building or hotel.
Residents are transported to the kitchen via their headset, where they select food and receive accurate sensory feedback about it. Say the user selects steak with mushroom sauce. The recipe is found in a vast library, and then her cooking actions are emulated.
Once the food is prepared to the user?s satisfaction, the recipe and preparation will be stored for future use. Robots then deliver the dish to her room. Food factories associated with the central kitchens are computer-managed and almost always in use, maximizing efficiency. And, users don?t have to shop for ingredients, saving on time and energy to drive to a store.
What?s more, individual living spaces can be much more space efficient without a physical kitchen.
Other designers are dreaming up modular, remote-controlled, smart kitchens for your home. Chiara Daniele?s version, iFood, features electrical appliances in one place, making cooking easier and more energy-efficient.
The refrigerator is the hub of this kitchen; a touchscreen on the door allows users to control the appliances; the door is see-through so users can see what?s inside without opening the door. The frig also gives information about milk that?s about gone, and alerts users to potential problems, such as temperatures that aren?t right.
The stovetop is actually more like a cooking plane, with LEDs that show information such as cooking temps, the weight of food being cooked, and the cooking?s progress. The sink can double as a washing machine.
The Liberty Kitchen, a conceptual project that is the brainchild of Helder Filipov and the Advanced Design Team at Whirlpool Latin America, is based on the principles of universal design.
Modular components in the kitchen can be moved around, and the height of countertops and work surfaces are adjustable with the touch of a fingertip. Liberty features water recycling for doing laundry and dishes. Cabinets are opened and light-activated with the wave of a hand; compartments for spices drop down at a touch.
The setup integrates and aligns a refrigerator, cooking area, prep area, microwave, washing area, washing machine, water recycling system, air conditioning, and exhaust.
In the iK (integrated kitchen), the pantry communicates with the refrigerator and oven per your remote instructions, say, from the office. This kitchen, created by Charlwood Design in Melbourne, Australia, and still in 3dCAD model mode, is based around a central column that allows the separate physical components (dishwasher, oven, etc.) to be linked.
It also contains food banks that allow for ingredients to be moved back and forth through the central column. Built-in sensors monitor food supplies so you?ll know when you?re just about out of milk, even without checking the fridge.
Anvil Cabinet and Mill of Salt Lake City has recently started selling a fully automated smart kitchen called Anvil Motion.
The cabinet doors, reacting to a wave from the user or a tap on a sensor, automatically fold and disappear, rising and falling vertically.
You can customize cabinets with biometric scanners to keep teenagers from raiding your liquor cabinet, and program, say, a baking station so that when you want to make a cake, one touch will open the cabinets with the tools and ingredients you need, and the oven will start pre-heating.
Anvil Motion is designed to play well with automatic lighting, security, media, and heating/cooling systems.
Robot Sous Chefs
But the ultimate automated kitchen might actually be a robot. The Robovie-II has helped customers shop for and carry products at a Kyoto supermarket. The Advanced Telecommunications Research Institute is developing the Robovie-II for seniors, who communicate their shopping lists from home to the robot, which is waiting at the grocery store.
Once at the store, the shopper walks with the robot, who even offers suggestions on items to pick up.
Another smart shopping assistant is being developed by Industrial designer Balint Kardos. The Chef, a handheld appliance, knows what?s in your refrigerator (thanks to radio frequency identification?an information chip in food packaging) so you don?t buy yet another jar of mustard you don?t need.
Tell The Chef what recipe you?re going to use, and it will make sure you buy all the ingredients, or will suggest recipes you can make out of just what?s in your fridge or pantry. The Chef is poised to work with shopping navigation systems that experts predict stores will install.
Food purchased, it?s now time for some help cooking it. The Butl-R-Bot, developed by Electrolux Design Lab finalist Tim Leeding, is a compact robotic kitchen assistant with human-like arms, sensors, and cameras that can cook meals, take orders, and collect food. It can even interact with kitchen appliances and utensils.
A compact 14-inches wide, it can easily fit into most any kitchen. You can read recipes on it and program it from a built-in touchscreen. Willow Garage?s PR2 robot, meanwhile, has been taught by researchers at the Technical University of Munich to make sandwiches, popcorn, and pancakes.
What?s significant: the robots don?t have to be explicitly told how to do these tasks; the command, ?make me pancakes? sets the robot off to turn on the stove, because it knows the stove will be needed.
Similarly, at the Korea Institute of Science and Technology in Seoul, Mahru, a biped humanoid, has been taught to place food into a microwave and bring it to you.
Robots are also there when it comes time to clean up. An HRP-2 humanoid robot has learned to wash dishes. A University of Tokyo professor, Kei Okada, is using human-motion capture and video-game-like simulations to train the robot how to handle various dishes and glasses. And they?re training it to adjust if, say, you move a glass while the robot is trying to grab it. The challenge is to teach the robot to adapt to the constantly-changing human environment.
If your issue isn?t shopping, cooking, and cleaning up meals but eating too much, Autom is here to help. This robotic weight-loss coach is being sold for $199 (plus a $19.99 a month subscription fee) by Intuitive Automata (a company that spun off of MIT).
Autom asks what you?re eating and how much you are exercising; she?ll show you your progress and encourage you, dispensing advice along the way. How much different is Autom from Weight Watchers online, which has lots of tools, tracking, and support, other than the fact that it talks?
It?s unclear, but one can see how features of this program might be integrated with a smart refrigerator or pantry (perhaps the door automatically locks when you?ve reached your calorie allotment for the day?).