Virtual Kitchens: A Tasty Treat for Bad Cooks
Not everyone can be Gordon Ramsey, but scientists are devising gadgets to help you learn to slice, dice and saute like the pros.
In Japan, computer scientist Yu Suzuki and his colleagues at Kyoto Sangyo University devised a kitchen that adds augmented reality with traditional stoves, refrigerators and other equipment, complete with ceiling-mounted cameras and projectors to overlay cooking instructions right on the ingredients. That means you won't have to try to keep a cookbook, iPad or Kindle open. You can cook easily and visually and understand how to prepare ingredients for a recipe -- "even if you have no cooking experience," Suzuki said.
The device isn't just for recipes, though. It'll even let you fillet a fish -- not an easy task. Just lay it down and the cameras will outline it with a virtual knife, showing you where to cut. Speech bubbles even look like they're coming from the fish's mouth to tell you how to cut it.
And if you're lonely in the virtual kitchen, you can make friends with a robot assistant, Phyno, which asks you if you've finished a step. If you answer "no," Phyno will repeat the instructions for you.
Suzuki said the system is in its very early stages, and for now, it only helps prepare fish and slice onions. But he plans to automate it and present the work at the Asia Pacific Conference on Computer Human Interaction in Matsue, Japan.
In another kitchen across the world, Jinna Lei of the University of Washington also installed cameras in the kitchen, but she and colleges are using them to watch novice chefs. The cameras, which work much like Kinect devices, record the shape and appearance of kitchen items and track you when you cook.
Her system uses object recognition to determine if you've added ingredients, or if you're using the wrong tools. She hopes the system will eventually prompt you when you've make a mistake, helping you keep errors and frustration out of cooking. Tracking is about 80 percent accurate, but Lei is adding a thermal camera to better identify your hands by body heat. She'll present the work at the UbiComp conference in Pittsburgh next month.
Other gadgets promise to take the work away from you altogether. Some are industrial in nature, such as in China, where a restaurateur sells thousands of noodle-slicing robots. At $2,000 each, they can slice them better than humans, he says, adding they'll eventually replace workers in factories.
If you're tired the frying pan, a Missouri start-up is working on a process to 3D print meat. Modern Meadow said it can layer mixtures of cells into a structure and then make and print "meat" from it. It prints a sliver of meat that's about 2-by-1-centimeters -- so don't come hungry. The meat is edible, though.
Of course, most gadgets that try to change kitchens into virtual workspaces are in the very early stages. If you really need help to stir up dinner, look no further than an app. Foodily, for example, lets you browse recipes from award-winning chefs. And if you're want a specific type of food, like gluten-free, you can set preferences and link up with others that post recipes. You can compare the calorie and nutritional content of different dishes, and identify which ingredients you want to add in your culinary creation. The app is free, but only available for iOS.
Unlike the Jetsons-type gadgets under development, you'll actually have to cook the food yourself. While the gadgets sound exciting, they're not yet available, but they can give some flavor about what's to come to the kitchens of the future. After all, you probably never thought smart refrigerators would tell you that you're eating too much. But those are on the horizon too, and the whole kitchen itself is set to follow suit. ♦
Categories: Beyond Technology