Even AI critics will eat their words for this machine

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New Delhi | July 8, 2018 2:19 AM

Robotic chefs made in India to enter market in a year, can prepare over 100 Indian dishes.

Bengaluru-made Mechanical Chef will cost around Rs 25,000

You have a machine for laundry, dishwashing, vacuuming and various other appliances that make life easier for you. But what if there was a machine that did all the cooking as well? Enter a robotic chef, which, believe it or not, might be a reality in India as early as next year.

Instead of sweating in the kitchen, expect matar paneer, jeera aloo, rice and dal, and about a hundred more Indian recipes, to be ready in just half an hour at the press of a button. Expectedly, promotional videos of the chef-machine show the audience already sold at the idea.

One such robochef is in the works at Bengaluru-based start-up Mechanical Chef. Founded in 2017 by Cohan Sujay Carlos, a former machine learning researcher at Microsoft, and Arpit Sharma, an aerospace engineer who worked on the moon rover at Team Indus, the start-up has created a machine that can take over the most essential household chore.

The prototype of the machine, which can cook three dishes at a time for a family of three-four on induction heaters, uses operations such as ‘dropping’ ingredients into the dish being cooked; ‘heating’ the dish being cooked; and ‘stirring’ the contents. As per the makers, these three main operations are all it takes to prepare your favourite Indian dishes like an upma or a bisi bele bath.

To ease the job even further, the machine comes pre-loaded with basic spices that are needed for cooking, stored in designated spice boxes which can be periodically refilled, reveals co-founder Arpit Sharma.

“All the user has to do is add the chopped vegetables needed for a dish, and the machine then takes over and does the rest,” he says. Sharma feels half a billion women in India would save three hours a day every day if they did not have to cook.

Another start-up, Nymble has even named their robochef Julia.

The brainchild of Bengaluru-based engineers Raghav Gupta and Rohin Malhotra, Julia promises to be a mechanised cooking pot that promises to serve up Indian food in under 20 minutes.

“Customised for household use, Julia is twice the size of a microwave,” reveals Gupta, elaborating how the machine can also be remote-operated with the help of a phone application, also created by Nymble. What will make the machine more interesting is that the makers are working on integrating the app with grocery providers to deliver pre-cut veggies, considerably reducing the hassle of the entire cooking process.The Mechanical Chef, which has been developed with funding from the department of science and technology, Karnataka, is undergoing user trials and being prepped to launch as a commercial product sometime next year at a cost of approximately Rs 25,000 per machine. Indian competitor Nymble, on the other hand, is looking at a mixed group of national and international financers, who will begin testing the product later this year, post which the startup will put up a crowdfunding campaign. Since they want to target a global audience, their prices will depend on the respective manufacturers and assembly lines.

Elsewhere in the world, UK-based company Moley Robotics, which has created the Moley Robotic Kitchen, and Boston-based restaurant Spyce, which assembles healthy meal bowls, are already making a headway in the field of robotic cooking. The Moley Robotic Kitchen, created in 2014 by Mark Oleynik, a computer scientist, includes two robotic arms equipped with tactile sensors, an oven, an electric stove, a dishwasher and a touchscreen unit, which can be operated by a smartphone. These arms can pick up and use most kitchen equipment, including blenders, whisks and knives.

The machine captures, with a 3D camera and wired glove, the functioning of a human chef, which is uploaded into its database. The chef’s actions are then translated into digital movements with the help of gesture recognition algorithms created in collaboration with Stanford and Carnegie Mellon’s professors. What you get as end result is an identical meal made from scratch.

Then there is Creator, a culinary robotics company in in San Francisco, that will make burgers priced at $6 with the help of a robochef. The machine does everything like slicing and toasting the bun to adding toppings and seasoning and cooking the patties, all in five minutes. The meat is also ground by the machine, making it perhaps the freshest burger, which will be available to the public in September.

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