Well, fellow humans, we had a good run, but our time is over. Robots have their knives out — literally — and know how to use them.
Terminator-esque teasing aside, IEEE Spectrum has a video roundup of some of cutting-edge (sorry) robotics research being done right now. Included among the videos is “Robotic Cutting: Mechanics and Control of Knife Motion,” by Xiaoqian Mu, Yuechuan Xue, and Yan-Bin Jia from Iowa State University, in Ames, Iowa, USA.
You may think that having a robot to slice an onion mainly entails a big mechanical arm slamming a knife down, but you’d be wrong. The researchers created a program that combines and coordinates pressing, pushing and slicing motions. From the research paper’s Introduction:
Cutting skills such as chop, slice, and dice are mostly beyond the reach of today’s robots. Technical challenges come not just from manipulation of soft and irregularly-shaped objects, but more from doing so while fracture is happening. The latter requires planning and force control based on reliable modeling of an object’s deformation and fracture as it is being cut. The knife’s movement needs to be adjusted to progress in terms of material fracture. Its trajectory may need to be replanned in the case of an unforeseeable situation (e.g., appearance of a bone).
As you can see from the video, this particular robot won’t be wowing crowds at a Benihana anytime soon, but it shows once again that robots are getting more proficient at higher-skilled tasks. Automation is coming for food sector jobs, and while we think of them right now in terms of flipping burgers and bussing tables, robots will be automating more and more tasks in restaurants, like prepping vegetables.
Dishcraft, for example, is still pretty tight lipped around what it’s working on, but the company has talked about building robots to do specific tasks in restaurant kitchens like prep work. Miso Robotics’ Flippy was created in part to take over dangerous tasks like working the grill and deep fryer in the kitchen, and the company has already talked about Flippy eventually chopping vegetables.
While there are still many issues to work through with the rise of robots, having them handle knives in the kitchen (and saving countless fingertips from lacerations) is probably not such a bad thing.