Sony and Carnegie Mellon Partnering to Make New Robo-Chefs

One of the world's largest tech companies is partnering with Carnegie Mellon computer scientists to build robots fit for meal preparation, cooking, and even food delivery.
Shelby Rogers

First, there was Flippy, the burger flipping robot that made headlines by working for CaliBurger restaurants. But with a new partnership between Sony and Carnegie Mellon researchers, there could be a lot more robots headed to kitchens around the world. 

The Japanese tech giant recently announced a partnership with engineers at Carnegie Mellon University (CMU) to make food preparation better and more streamlined. (More specifically, it will be the U.S.-based subsidiary of Sony --Sony Corporation of America -- which will partner with CMU.) The teams want to focus on artificial intelligence and robotics, and will even look to move beyond meal preparation and into cooking and delivery services. 


The first round of research, according to Sony in a press statement, was food-centered because of the sheer lack of research and technology in the space. Outside of Flippy the robot and the occasional delivery robot, there haven't been too many robots or AI systems succeeded in the food industry. 

The teams also hope that by perfecting a space as intricate and challenging as food, they could then apply that technology to other areas. 

"The technology necessary for a robot to handle the complex and varied task of food preparation and delivery could be applied to a broader set of skills and industries," the company wrote. "Applications could include those where machines must handle fragile and irregularly shaped materials and carry out complex household and small business tasks."

Special dietary restrictions or allergies will also play a crucial role in how these robots and systems are programmed, Sony noted. It all depends on the needs of the consumer. Foods could easily be delivered to home or office. There's even the possibility that the robots would learn how to set the table while fixing the meal. 

"Making and serving food is an immense challenge for automation, so we're excited about the types of machines and software that might emerge as we jointly explore a variety of approaches and solutions," said Andrew Moore, dean of CMU's School of Computer Science. "Both Sony and CMU aim high, so we are confident this research will produce technologies that impact robotics across a broad number of applications."

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The team consists of robotics engineers and machine learning experts from CMU's School of Computer Science in Pittsburgh. Sony engineer Hiroaki Kitano from Sony's executive group is leading the team. He said these projects could do significantly more than just cook up a good meal for busy people. 

"This project has the potential to make the vast possibilities of AI and robotics more familiar and accessible to the general public," said Dr. Kitano.  "Additionally, it could also assist those for whom daily tasks, such as food preparation, are challenging.  I am very excited to be working with the talented scientists at CMU to make this vision a reality."

No word yet from either group as to what exactly these robots could look like or how the AI would learn to navigate a kitchen space. However, with this project and others like Flippy and London's Moley Robotics, there could be a new era of chefs on the horizon. 

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