Is a dishwasher a robot?

That’s a setting-the-bar question my colleague (and robot expert) Signe Brewster likes to ask when talking to people about robots. There is no definite answer. You could think it just an appliance, or recognize that it is an increasingly smart self-contained mechanism that works to make your life easier.

The robot/notrobot question was one I thought about quite a bit during the recent Smart Kitchen Summit, where there were lots of cooking related “robots” on display.

There was the crepe-making robot which spat out delicious, perfectly cooked crepes. The GammaChef, which is a countertop device that holds, dispenses, mixes and cooks ingredients to make one pot meals.

While these lack an LED-lit face and are not bipedal, they seem to fit neatly into the “robot” category, much like a Roomba does. Once set up, they do all of the manual work of that assigned task.

The distinction between robot and appliance got a bit fuzzier with other devices on display. Bubble Lab describes their DRIP pour-over coffee maker as an appliance, but the way it pops out of a counter and swivels methodically to craft a perfect cup of coffee has undeniable robotic overtones. And with its automated watering, lighting and HD camera to sense plant health, the AVA system doesn’t seem like a robot, but it pretty much does all the work of gardening for you.

Then there is the Kitchbot, which has “bot” in its name, but is it a robot? It’s a smart device that plugs into your existing appliances, like a rice cooker or slow cooker, to automatically precisely control the time and temperature of your cooking. Seems more like a smart monitor to me, but again, there are no wrong answers here.

And the end of the day, it may not matter whether we call something a robot or not. What does matter is that there are a ton of great devices headed for your kitchen to make your life easier. And the best word for that?


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