R2-D-Chew: Robot Chef Mimics Human Eating Process to Create Tastier Food | robots

The food processors are here. Not only to distinguish between foods that taste good and those that don’t, but also to become better cooks.

A robot chef designed by Cambridge University researchers has been trained to taste the saltiness of a dish and the myriad of ingredients at different stages of chewing – a process mimicking that of humans.

This is a step above current electronic tests which only provide a snapshot of a food’s saltiness. Replicating the human process should result in a tastier end product, the researchers say.

“If robots are to be used for certain aspects of food preparation, it is important that they are able to ‘taste’ what they are cooking,” said Grzegorz Sochacki, one of the researchers from the engineering department. of Cambridge.

The concept of tasting as you go – checking whether the balance of flavors is correct in the process of cooking a dish – is a critical approach, according to the researchers, because human perception of taste relies on the saliva produced during chewing and digestive enzymes to decide whether food is enjoyable or not.

A “chef” robot was trained to taste foods at different stages of the chewing process to assess whether they are seasoned enough.

To map human taste, the researchers trained the robot chef to make omelets. He then tasted nine variations of scrambled eggs and tomatoes at three stages of the chewing process. A salinity sensor attached to the robot’s arm provided readings while the robot prepared meals. To mimic the chewing progress, the team mixed the egg mixture and had the robot test the dish again.

Sochacki says he can do a lot more than just tell a dish is too salty or not salty enough – for example, he’s able to decide if more mixing is needed, or other ingredients.

“At the end of the day, it’s just one sensor that wouldn’t be able to normally process two different ingredients,” Sochacki told the BBC. “But through chewing, we see all the different changes through the mechanical processing.”

The robotic arms looked like those from a car factory, Sochacki told Radio 4’s Today programme, but were made smaller and more affordable for use in a variety of kitchens, such as chain restaurants.

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But could the robot also help cook at home? “It’s definitely possible, but it’s probably a few years away,” Sochacki said.

For the future, the researchers hope to teach the robot to adapt to an individual’s tastes – such as preferring sweet or fatty foods – and becoming an essential part of households.

Dr Muhammad Chughtai, a senior scientist at home appliance maker Beko, who worked with the Cambridge University researchers, believes technology will play a major role in homes in the future.

“This result is a leap forward in robotic cooking, and using machine and deep learning algorithms, the mastication will help robot chefs adjust the taste of different dishes and users,” he said.

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