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Bringing robots into the kitchen to cook meals, ‘taste’ food and detect salmonella

As homes become increasingly tech-enabled, several companies are working on robotic chefs that prepare, cook and clean up after themselves

Juanelo Turriano, an Italian clockmaker and inventor, served as the Court Clock Master and later as Matemático Mayor to the Holy Roman emperor, Charles V. When the emperor retired to the San Yuste monastery in 1555, about 200km west of Madrid, Turriano accompanied him.

Turriano made a number of wooden and iron robotic toys for the amusement of the emperor while eating, including men on horses staging battles, musicians playing and birds that appeared to fly. One of his automata, built in 1557, could even fetch bread from the monastery bakery and so, perhaps, was the first kitchen robot.

Today, food and drink preparation is increasingly being automated. Simple dispensers for drink cans and snacks have been with us for some time. Self-service barista machines are common in our filling stations and motorway service stops, able to reliably dispense a variety of styled coffees in high volume.

Some start-ups, such as Artly in Seattle and CafeX in San Francisco, add articulated robotic arms to coffee stations. These barista bots theatrically manipulate cups and jugs, and even artistically pour latte art patterns into the coffee foam.


Chowbotics, a 2014 start-up in the San Francisco Bay area, created a self-service salad kiosk. The machine operator filled up to 20 tube stacks of pre-prepared salad ingredients – such as lettuce, tomatoes, peppers and grains – which were then mixed on demand to create a variety of fresh salad bowls. Chowbotics was acquired by food delivery company DoorDash in 2021 during the Covid pandemic, but was shut down 18 months later.

There are a number of pizza robots, chiefly targeting retail outlets. PicnicWorks (Seattle), Piestro and Stellar Pizza (both in Los Angeles) supply automated pizza machines. Paris-based Pazzi Robotics adds a multi-arm articulated robot to prepare the dough, add ingredients, cook and package the pizzas.

Coffee, salads and pizza are a staple diet of many tech Gen Zs but, as The Irish Times’ Food Month continues, what innovations are there for cooking a more varied menu?

London’s Moley Robotics was started in 2014. It now offers a fully robotic domestic kitchen. There are preloaded recipes for a variety of dishes but you can also instruct the robot to create a particular recipe.

Its arms dexterously operate standard appliances, select pre-prepared ingredients, manipulate utensils and pots and pans, and cook the food automatically. It even cleans up after itself.

It can also be turned off, allowing you to use the same appliances, utensils and pans if you occasionally want to do the cooking yourself. One potential drawback: it costs of the order of a quarter of a million pounds.

Hamburg’s GoodBytz has just closed a €12 million Series A round for its commercial robotic kitchen. Its storage module can work with up to 72 base ingredients and sauces. Its cooking module can simultaneously prepare eight meals, and up to 3,000 meals a day. Its topping and serving modules autonomously plate and garnish each serving, with options for both eat-in plating and to-go labelled packages.

No doubt robotic chefs will in time become more discerning. Cambridge University, working with the domestic appliances company Beko, has experimented with sensors on a robotic arm to “taste” food in preparation, specifically saltiness. IBM Research Labs has developed “Hypertaste”, an e-tongue prototype having 16 sensors which can learn to distinguish drinks by their chemical composition. Israel’s OlfaGuard has been developing an e-nose to sniff out dangerous pathogens such as salmonella and E.coli in food processors and kitchens.

But how long before we can have an automated, practical and affordable chef in the domestic kitchen?

Nymble was founded in 2022 in Bengaluru, in India, and now has an office in San Francisco. For $100, you can reserve the launch edition of its cooking robot due for release in April 2024, which will initially be priced at $1,095 (€1,025).

You load it with up to four ingredients which it then cooks, stirring while monitoring for consistency and temperature, and adding spices if appropriate. There are a wide range of recipes, selected via the Nymble app and you, of course, will be able to develop and share your own with the Nymble community.

When Charles V died in 1528, his son Philip II became emperor. Philip had no time for toy robots to aid sustenance and to entertain while digesting. He instead directed Turriano towards practical real-world problems. Turriano duly complied, building an astonishing and massive robotic water delivery system from the river Tagus uphill to a height of 100m to supply the city of Toledo.

While contracted to deliver 12,000 litres per day, the mechanical system actually delivered 18,000 litres per day. A second similar system was built, which lasted for 60 years.

Turriano was an accomplished innovator, capable not just of glitzy marketing to capture attention but also of awe-inspiring practical real-world engineering.