Would we think more fondly of the Skynet robot takeover if the Terminators cooked us breakfast first? Researchers from the U.K.’s renowned University of Cambridge are putting that hypothesis to the test (kind of) by training a robot to prepare an omelet — from cracking the eggs through to plating up the finished dish. And, according to its creators, the robo-omelet actually tastes pretty darn good.
“The highlight of this particular project is the ability of the robot to learn cooking differently according to humans’ preferences,” Fumiya Iida, a researcher from Cambridge’s Department of Engineering, told Digital Trends. “[The] machine learning algorithm is capable of adjusting cooking control parameters automatically given the evaluation feedback of humans tasting some samples.”
The project also showcases some impressive computer vision and dexterity in terms of robotic manipulation. The robot in the study was able to carry out a wide range of tasks, rather than just repeating one task over and over. This includes cracking eggs, stirring the omelette mix, shaking the salt and pepper containers, and handling the frying pan. Teaching a robot to prepare and cook food is a challenging task, since it must deal with complex problems in robot manipulation, computer vision, sensing, and human-robot interaction, and produce a consistent end product. Omelettes are frequently used as a test of chefs’ skills — since they’re easy to make, but difficult to make well.
“We did this project as [a] collaboration with kitchen appliance company Beko to [explore] the future of kitchens and the use of robots in this context,” Iida continued. “There are many ways these technologies can be exploited for commercial products in the near future — from intelligent kitchen appliances [to] assistive technologies for elderly [people and those with disabilities.]”
Along with other food prep robots like Flippy the fast food-revolutionizing burger-making bot, this is just one more reminder that the science fiction dream of home robot chefs is getting closer by the day. Hopefully it won’t be too much longer before robots like this are a staple of modern kitchens everywhere.
A paper describing the work, titled “Improving Robotic Cooking using Batch Bayesian Optimization,” was recently published in the journal IEEE Robotics and Automation Letters.