Robot chef trained to ‘chew’ and ‘taste’ food – here’s what it means for omelets
A robotic chef is trained to taste the food at different stages of the chewing process to check if it’s salty enough, mimicking a similar approach in humans.
Researchers from the University of Cambridge suggest their results could help develop automated or semi-automated food preparation by assisting robots to learn what tastes good and what doesn’t, making them better cooks.
When food is chewed, people notice a change in taste and texture.
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For example, biting a fresh tomato in the middle of summer releases juices, and chewing releases saliva and digestive enzymes, changing our perception of the tomato’s taste.
The robot, already trained to make omelets, tasted nine variations of scrambled eggs and tomatoes at three different stages of the chewing process.
Robot chefs learn to analyze the flavors and texture of a dish. Credit: EPA
Then it made taste maps of the different dishes.
The researchers found that this “taste-as-you-go” approach improved the robot’s ability to quickly and accurately assess the salt content of the dish.
Grzegorz Sochacki of Cambridge’s Department of Engineering, the paper’s lead author, said: “Most home cooks will be familiar with the concept of tasting while you’re at it – checking a dish during the cooking process to make sure the balance of flavors is right.
“If robots are used for certain aspects of food preparation, it is important that they can ‘taste’ what they are cooking.”
Co-author Dr. Arsen Abdulali, also from the Engineering Department, said: “Current methods of electronic testing only take a single snapshot of a homogenized sample, so we wanted to replicate a more realistic process of chewing and tasting in a robotic system, which should result in a tastier final product. .”
Researchers attached a probe- which acts like a salt sensor- to mimic the human process of chewing and tasting in their robotic chef — to a robotic arm.
They made 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 manner and returned a reading within seconds.
To mimic 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 measurements yielded taste maps of each dish.
According to the study, there was a significant improvement in robots’ ability to assess saltiness over other electronic testing methods, which are often time-consuming and yield only a single reading.
Researchers say that by imitating the human processes of chewing and tasting, robots will eventually be able to produce food that people will enjoy and can be customized to individual tastes.
Abdulali said: “When a robot learns to cook, like any other cook, it needs indications of how well it is doing.
“We want the robots to understand the concept of taste, which will make them better cooks.”
The findings are published in the journal Frontiers in Robotics & AI.