The product of collaborative work between a research team from the University of Cambridge and Beko, a manufacturer of household appliances, a “robot chef” was created, capable of testing food at different stages of the chewing process, to assess whether it is seasoned enough.
The idea behind the development of this robot is to obtain a replicable model in the development of future automated or semi-automated kitchen instruments, capable of better mastering the food preparation process.
A “cooking robot” that can test its preparations
An important part of the eating experience is through our perception of the texture and taste of food. Taste perception, once processed by our senses, determines whether we enjoy food or not.
During the domestic food preparation process, those who cook usually taste what they prepare during the process, to balance the flavors based on their culinary preferences, which can be represented as a preference for sweet, salty, spicy or other options.
Although automated kitchen systems are capable of managing certain variables of the food preparation process, they do not have the control necessary to master this key factor of the result. However, as a result of a recent study, a prototype was developed that puts into practice new findings that approach greater control of flavors.
“If robots are going to be used for certain aspects of food preparation, it is important that they are able to ‘taste’ what they are cooking”commented Grzegorz Sochacki of the Cambridge Engineering Department, lead author of the paper following this research.
“When we taste, the process of chewing also provides continuous feedback to our brains”said Dr. Arsen Abdulali, also from the Cambridge Engineering Department and co-author of the research. “Current electronic testing methods only take a single snapshot of a homogenized sample, so we wanted to replicate a more realistic chewing and tasting process in a robotic system, which should result in a tastier end product.”he added.
On the challenge this team took on, Sochacki stated: “We needed something cheap, small and fast to add to our robot so it could do the tasting – it needed to be cheap enough to use in a kitchen, small enough for a robot and fast enough to use while cooking”.
The chewing and tasting that humans do was imitated by researchers in the development of this “robot cook”. For that, they attached a conductance probe, which acts as a salinity sensor, to a robotic arm.
Thanks to this implementation, they prepared scrambled eggs and tomatoes, cooking different variants of this dish, in which the number of tomatoes and the amount of salt in each dish varied. Using the probe, the robot “tasted” the dishes in a grid fashion, returning a reading with a “flavor map” in just a few seconds.
This prototype, the product of the aforementioned research, shows us a new path that is beginning to open up in technology applied to the kitchen. The article with the results of this study was published in the journal Frontiers in Robotics & AI.