They are still most likely to be found in the restaurant trade, especially in Asia where technological innovations become established much faster than in Europe, for example – driven in part by demographic change. Whether as chefs or waiters, around the world robots are already being used in some catering businesses.
For example, three robots are “employed” by the American delivery service Zume Pizza to prepare pizza bases and put them into the oven, robots Kona and Koya cook four different ramen dishes in a shopping mall in Shanghai and robot barista Sawyer takes care of brewing and serving coffee in Tokyo’s fully automated Henna Café.
While many restaurant owners use robots for reasons of cost efficiency – a robot does not generally fall ill and can complete automated, repetitive tasks more quickly and precisely than a person – the experience itself is the dominating factor for customers.
Today, it’s still a unique experience to be served by a robot or watch one prepare your meal. Whether the food actually tastes good or not is secondary. But will this trend towards full automation really extend into our homes?
No question about it – there are plenty of possible uses for robots in private kitchens too. Don’t forget that technological equipment (and that’s what robots are) has always played a significant role in the kitchen.
The time after the Thermomix
Initially used chiefly in the form of cookers, ovens and refrigerators, which are primarily used for the preparation and preservation of food, appliances like the KitchenAid, Thermomix and cookers with in-built cooking assistant technology now have more and more features to make food preparation more simple, efficient and safe for consumers.
But up to now, kitchen appliances have not been able to take on the entire process of selecting a dish, buying the ingredients, preparing them and even seasoning the dish to taste. However, the introduction of networked kitchens means this is likely to change sooner rather than later.
In the American animated series “The Jetsons” from the somewhat stuffy 1960s, the female robot maid Rosie stole fans’ hearts with her human-looking design, apron and sense of duty that went far beyond mere programming. Today, this future doesn’t seem so fantastical.
Not a pure utopia
But while the assistance robots that are currently in development are still designed to look cute and given a kind of face in an effort to create a human-like companion, the robots used in kitchens might take completely different forms.
For example, the prototype fully automated robotic kitchen presented three years ago by Moley had a robot cook – consisting of two robotic hands developed by the Shadow Robot Company – actually take over the work at the stove. The user simply had to let it know what dish he/she wanted it to cook via a smartphone and its own app. On receiving these instructions, the robot selected the ingredients and set to work cutting, cooking, roasting or baking.
The robotic hands were even able to pour something into the cooking pot and stir it, move containers, put something in the oven and more besides. Put simply: many kitchen tasks that we previously believed could only be done by human arms and hands.
It remains to be seen how long it will take for such robot kitchen prototypes to be developed to product maturity. At the same time, assistance systems in various forms are already increasingly likely to find their way into our kitchens. They have the ability to make the everyday lives of their users much easier and, in conjunction with ever-evolving smart and networked kitchens, help us to save time and eat healthily.
Robots become human
Perhaps public acceptance of these systems will indeed actually increase in proportion to the extent that they are given human attributes such as eyes, a pleasant voice or designs that look like arms. Whatever direction kitchen technology takes – towards the smart kitchen, automation, robotic systems or even altogether old-fashioned operating concepts with or without technological support.
Most users are, in any case, not ready to hand over their kitchens to robots, that much seems certain. Ultimately, cooking is a hobby that many people enjoy and that helps them to relax. And when done with others, cooking becomes an experience that people are likely to find even more important in future, according to trend studies. At the end of the day, users will have the choice to select from the robot menu or simply use robots as cooking assistants who are happy to take on the bothersome task of chopping onions.