Robots Will Also Eat Dinner with You


Sommelier Robot: the future of wine snobbery. (Akihiro I/Getty Images)

Yesterday I bogged about some of the interesting cooking and kitchen robots out there. One knows its way around a kitchen. Another can make pancakes, and a creepy robot hand can pick up sushi. So I was delighted to click over to BBC News this morning and learn that a team of scientists at Bristol University is hard at work on a robot that can chew all this food up.

The bot is designed with one goal in mind: chew up food with its decidedly human teeth. If you've ever seen the device in an IKEA store that puts constant wear and tear on a piece of furniture, then you've seen something similar. The robot perfectly mimics the mechanics of the human jaw, which allows scientists to test the durability of new types of crowns and other dental fittings.

Of course, you'll have to turn to different robots if you want machines to taste and digest food. On the first count, there's the Sommelier Robot from Japan's NEC System Technologies and Mie University. Not only can it identify wines with an inferred scanner and give food pairing recommendations, it can also "taste" leftovers and tell you what they are. According to one Wired blogger, it identified human flesh as bacon.

And if you're looking for robots capable of digesting anything, you're going to have to stretch the definition a bit. Roboticists at the Bristol Robotics Laboratory have spent a great deal of time developing robot predators that hunt down and eat living organisms, then break them down into energy. Their earlier project involved a SlugBot that thrives on garden slugs, but they've since moved on to EcoBot II and EcoBot III, which eat flies. They've also explored the possibilities of a plankton-eating robot.

Combine all three of these technologies and, hey, you have the makings of a fully functioning dinner guest.

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About the Author: Robert Lamb spent his childhood reading books and staring into the woods — first in Newfoundland, Canada and then in rural Tennessee. There was also a long stretch in which he was terrified of alien abduction. He earned a degree in creative writing. He taught high school and then attended journalism school. He wrote for the smallest of small-town newspapers before finally becoming a full-time science writer and podcaster. He’s currently a senior writer at HowStuffWorks and has co-hosted the science podcast Stuff to Blow Your Mind since its inception in 2010. In his spare time, he enjoys traveling with his wife Bonnie, discussing dinosaurs with his son Bastian and crafting the occasional work of fiction.