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Surprising Science

Hello, HAL. Can You Help Me Make This Cake?

Researchers at separate universities are creating kitchens that use technology to “walk” cooks through the steps of meal preparation.

Article written by guest writer Kecia Lynn

What’s the Latest Development?

Two recent projects have the potential to turn anyone into a functioning cook, even those who like to claim they can’t boil water. At Kyoto Sangyo University, researchers have created a kitchen that uses technology to project cooking instructions onto a workspace, and includes a robot assistant that prompts the novice at each step. Meanwhile, at the University of Washington, scientists have installed object- and action-recognition cameras that keep track of the tasks a cook is following, right down to the type of ingredient being added to a bowl. These projects come on the heels of another “smart kitchen” project at Newcastle University that helps users improve their knowledge of French as well as their cooking by tying instructions to actions.

What’s the Big Idea?

Combined, these technologies could provide several benefits. Projectors that display recipe steps allow cooks to “concentrate on slicing and dicing without having to look up at a book or a screen.” Matching tasks with ingredients means that the smart kitchen can tell the cook when they’re doing something wrong. “For example, if the system detects sugar pouring into a bowl containing eggs, and the recipe does not call for sugar, it could log the aberration.” Add to this the ability to teach terms in different languages, and perhaps it’s not surprising that Newcastle researcher Thomas Ploetz’s next goal is to attach scores to individual cooking skills, effectively “gamifying” the system.

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