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In the Field: Dr. Mark Oleynik, inventor of the Moley Robotic Kitchen

By Madina Papadopoulos Published

Q + A: Will robots take over the home kitchen?

I recently Skyped with Russian entrepreneur and computer scientist Doctor Mark Oleynik, to discuss his recent invention, The Moley Robotic Kitchen. The product was announced in April 2015 and, with crowdfunding and investments, should be officially on the market in 2018 (with a price tag of $100,000). The Moley Robotic Kitchen consists of an actual kitchen workspace (oven and cooktop) and attached robotic arms. The robo-chef learns precise sequences of motions by recording human chefs at work, and re-enacts those motions with its mechanical arms so, given the exact same ingredients, it can precisely prepare the same dish again and again with the push of a button.

Cook’s Illustrated: Can you describe the moment that the idea for this invention came to you?

Mark Oleynik: It’s not a one-minute idea, it’s a process. You see a problem and you find the optimal way to solve it. First, you need to understand what’s the service you want to have in the future. If you wake up 100 years [from now], what would you like to see around you? [My] main expectation is to have any kind of dish immediately when you want it.

CI: How does the robot learn to cook?

MO: We are tracking the motion of the chefs. [Ed note: One of the first recipes they recorded—crab bisque—was with Chef Tim Anderson; they are developing their software library of recipes with different chefs.] There are cyber gloves, motion capture cameras with markers, the video recognition. We use many technologies to make high-precision identification of each motion of the chef.

CI: And the robot moves in real time?

MO: One part of the motion capture is to keep timing the same as the chef. To build the identical dish, you need to have the same initial conditions and same process. [The system comes with special containers for ingredients, which the robot can recognize.]

An example of the Moley Robotic Kitchen at work.

CI: The recipes that the robot comes with are pre-programmed. Would the owner be able to teach the robot new recipes?

MO: Initially, the recipes are coming from the lab. We need to prove they work perfectly. You need to have enough expertise for that. But we will integrate some self-learning algorithms.

CI: The Moley comes fully stocked with appliances and tools. What about groceries?

MO: When you choose a recipe, there is a database inside. All the ingredients are well-defined and [with the correct] quantities. Users don’t need to make their own list. When you choose the recipe, you can place the order for the ingredients [online], depending on the logistic chain.

CI: Do you like to cook?

MO: Maybe, sometimes, but unfortunately, I’m not talented in this area.

CI: What recipes have you tried that you liked a lot?

MO: It’s confidential—we are preparing the launch for [2018], and will present all the recipes then.

CI: For many people, cooking is an expression of affection. Have you found any resistance to the idea of a robot creating a home-cooked meal?

MO: Are you sure that everyday you make food with love? There is no limitation to the Moley kitchen. You can use it as a normal kitchen anytime you want. In case you don’t have time, you can use the robotic mode.

CI: Now to the last and most important question—who is doing the dishes?

MO: Actually, we are going to integrate a dishwasher. The robot can place the dishes inside and press the buttons.

This interview has been edited and condensed.

Photographs courtesy of Moley Robotic Kitchen.