My wife is an excellent cook, and as she's out of town this week, I'm on my own for dinner. Don't get me wrong, I'm not completely useless in the kitchen, and I'm not the sort of guy to chow down on junk or fast food. So in these cases I inevitably turn to a Trader Joes meal or two, a simple pesto/pasta pairing and maybe a pack of vegan corn dogs one night. They're all easy and quick, which works out since I eat way too fast when it's just me.
But what if there was another way? The cat's attempts at feeding me generally end with me mercy killing a wounded chipmunk and digging a shallow grave. But what about robots? Our Roomba's culinary skills are limited to sucking up corn chip crumbs, but scientists continue to slave away on bots that will one day cook dinner for kitchen-challenged men and women around the world.
Yes, earlier this month, Tokyo's International Food Machinery and Technology Expo became a kind of Robo Kitchen Stadium. Just look at two of the entries.
First, above you'll see the Toyo Riki company's Okonomiyaki Robot hard at work making (what else?) okonomiyaki. This is apparently a kind of Japanese panckake, except they load it up like some sort of super-omelet. Shrimp, peppers, you name it. This stylish bot can carry out all the steps in making the dish, from mixing the batter to drizzling on some sauce.
Next, you'll see a photo of Chef Robot, from Japanese food machinery maker Baba Tekkosho Co. Watch in horror as its creepily human appendage manhandles wax sushi to the delight of onlookers at the food expo. This bot isn't really much of a chef, but it is designed to handle delicate food or pharmaceutical items. In other words, it could hand me a chipmunk from the backyard just like the cat, only without all the spinal trauma and gore.
Equally interesting (but not in attendance at the Expo) is the B21 Kitchen robot from the Technical University of Munich, featured last summer in New Scientist. It uses radio-frequency identification tags on dishes and utensils to make its way around the kitchen.
The robot not only knows where every utensil is at all times, but it can also learn how to carry out simple tasks with them by observing their movement. You can watch a computer simulation of it boiling past in this YouTube clip.
The technology is years away from being practical, so it looks like I'll have to cook, handle food and hunt for utensils on my own this week.