Robot Chef Trained to ‘Chew’ Food and Taste Seasoning
Researchers said their new tech could help with automated food preparation by programming robots to learn what tastes good and what doesn’t.
Working alongside appliances manufacturer Beko, the scientists trained the robot chef to assess the saltiness of a dish at different stages of the chewing process.
According to them, results of their tests could be useful in the development of future automated food preparation by helping robots to ‘learn’ what does or does not taste nice, effectively making them better cooks.
Researchers attached a conductance probe, which acts as a salinity sensor, to a robot arm to imitate chewing and tasting.
During the test, they prepared a dish of scrambled eggs and tomatoes, varying the number of tomatoes and the amount of salt in each dish. Using the probe, the robot ‘tasted’ the dishes in a grid-like fashion, returning a reading.
To imitate the change in texture caused by chewing, the team then put the egg mixture in a blender and had the robot test the dish again. The different readings at different points of ‘chewing’ produced taste maps of each dish.
Results showed a significant improvement in the ability of robots to assess saltiness over other electronic tasting methods, which are often time-consuming and only provide a single reading.
Grzegorz Sochacki from Cambridge’s Department of Engineering and the paper’s first author commented: “Most home cooks will be familiar with the concept of tasting as you go – checking a dish throughout the cooking process to check whether the balance of flavours is right.
“If robots are to be used for certain aspects of food preparation, it’s important that they are able to ‘taste’ what they’re cooking.”
Co-author Dr Arsen Abdulali, also from the Department of Engineering, added: “When we taste, the process of chewing also provides continuous feedback to our brains.
“Current methods of electronic testing only take a single snapshot from a homogenised sample, so we wanted to replicate a more realistic process of chewing and tasting in a robotic system, which should result in a tastier end product.”
Researchers discovered that this ‘taste as you go’ approach improved the robot’s ability to accurately assess the saltiness of the dish over other electronic tasting technologies, which only test a single homogenised sample.
“We needed something cheap, small and fast to add to our robot so it could do the tasting: it needed to be cheap enough to use in a kitchen, small enough for a robot, and fast enough to use while cooking,” added Sochacki.