The invention of robot chefs can be traced back to 1980s Japan. Tokyo-based Suzumo Machinery Works sold a sushi-making bot that churned out more than 1,000 rice patties an hour. The fish, however, had to be manually sliced. Combine that with a $10,000 price tag and it was easy to see why restaurants weren’t excited.
Technical advancements have lowered the costs of robot chefs while also making them better. A San Francisco restaurant called Creator uses a bot to make its burgers. The machine isn’t restricted to one kind of meal; it can combine different ingredients and condiments to serve different flavours of burger.
Customers use a tablet to send the bot their take-away orders. They can choose how cooked the meat will be, the amount of cheese and other toppings that they want. Everything from the grinding of meat to the buttering of the bun is done by the machine. It even packs the finished burger for delivery, turning out a burger every two minutes.
Not Just Burgers
Robot chefs are even taking on different cuisines. Boston-based restaurant Spyce is using machines to make Latin-American food and dishes with glazed spouts, kale and quinoa. Chinese entrepreneur Li Zhiming’s has spent 4 years perfecting bots that can cook over 40 dishes from the Hunan province.
Mechanical Chef, a startup in Bengaluru, has built a tabletop machine that can cook a variety of Indian meals, such as mattar paneer and dal tadka. It can make upto 3 dishes a month and only needs the basic ingredients to be fed into it. The bot has 30 recipes pre-programmed into it, which means consistency in cooking is easy to achieve.
The team hopes to teach it 150 recipes within the year and is also beta-testing an app which would allow users to customise the recipe to their liking. Future versions would allow any recipe to be uploaded to the bot. Using IoT, the device could have your food ready even before you reach home. Priced at ₹ 25,000, it is one of the first robot chefs that individual households can afford.
Automation isn’t meant to replace humans completely. The idea is to optimise the parts that can be optimised and use the resulting savings somewhere else. For instance, Creator is able to sell a $16 burger at half the price. They spend much more on sourcing natural, high-quality ingredients.
With catering being a low-paying industry, many feel that more automation could drive incentives down further. For chefs and many consumers, great food is an art form that no robot can get close to. Robots, though, make more business sense. This particular food fight is worth keeping an eye on.