Moley = the Future of Cooking?

Debating what to make for dinner this morning, I reached for my phone to log into Pinterest, an app I have recently found myself using almost every day. My roommate, who is quite an experienced user, got me hooked this year. I knew that I had butternut squash that was close to expiring. I wasn’t quite sure what I wanted to do with it, but I knew that I could find inspiration on Pinterest. Within seconds, I excitedly pinned Julia Frey’s recipe for Roasted Butternut Squash with Spiced Lentils, Feta, and Pine Nuts.

Later, reflecting on my experience, I realized how easy it was for me to locate a new recipe for a unique meal that utilized ingredients I had on hand. 15 years ago, this probably would not have been possible, and I would have been stuck making stale recipes from memory, scouring a recipe book (I may or may not have had) for something that could work, or calling my mom to rack her brain for the same.

Today, technology touches the kitchen and culinary process in numerous ways at every stage. We have all experienced the endless stream of brunch pictures and tasty videos on Facebook. We have watched as recipes transitioned from books…to email chains…to allrecipes.com…to seemingly every website/social network. An entire community and culture have been built around food, influencing our experience from planning and prep to actual cooking and consuming. Cooking has become an activity/skill for all (not just those time or skill), as technology has been implemented to eliminate certain pain points. Don’t have time to go to the store or missing an ingredient? Not to worry, you can get your groceries delivered…sometimes within the hour.  Work long hours and struggle to justify meal prep? Meal kits are the solution for you! HelloFresh, Blue Apron, Plated…Take your pick! Don’t understand the recipe instructions? Watch a video! What could be next?

To me, each of these innovations has successfully eased the cooking process in some way at some stage. They do, however, require human intervention or effort as well.  Recipes from Pinterest or Joy the Baker’s blog still need cooking. HelloFresh customers still have to chop their veggies and simmer their sauces. New investments in robotics, however, may eliminate the human element in culinary arts entirely.

Meet Moley, the reliable robot chef who never “burns the pine nuts or muddles up bicarb and baking powder.” Conceived in 2014 by computer scientist Mark Oleynik, Moley is the world’s first robotic kitchen and the future of cooking, according to some.

The Moley prototype, appearing at the International Robotics show, was the product of 12 months of collaborative development. As shown in the pictures, the innovation features a futuristic looking robot built into a small, beautifully designed kitchen. According to the company website, “a pair of fully articulated robotic hands now reproduce the entire function of human hands with the same speed, sensitivity, and movement. The cooking skills of Master Chef Tim Anderson, winner of the BBC Master Chef were recorded on the system – every motion, nuance and flourish – then replayed as his exact movements through the robotic hands…It cooks with the skill and flair of a master chef.”

Set to launch this year, Moley will be unveiled with an updated consumer version, featuring the four key kitchen items: robotic arms, oven, hob, and touchscreen unit. The kitchen is operated by a touch screen or remotely via smartphone. “When not in use, the robotic arms retract from view. In robotic use, glass screens glide across the unit, enclosing it for safe use when there’s no-one home.” Motley is also capturing attention for its iTunes-style library, which boasts a growing collection of recipes from around the world. The website explains that it will initially require a plate of ingredients, but, eventually, the system will be accessible anywhere and “a delicious meal will await your arrival home!”

In the words of its creators, “Moley is turning the dream of unlimited access to chefs and their recipes worldwide into reality, with the option of the robot creating their dishes for you; producing meals from around the world or even cooking your own recipes and sharing them with others all in your own home.” Undoubtedly, Moley is impressing people across industries including the restaurant field, airline industry, kitchen development, and even chef training schools. In my opinion, however, this represents a dark future for cooking. Throughout the course of history, cooking has been a place for traditions, creativity, and warmth. Families and friends bond over creating meals together, sharing family recipes, teaching technique. People express themselves through cooking. While this robot aims for efficiency and accuracy, mistakes in cooking can sometimes create the best surprises.  To me, a robot in the kitchen would make the social center of many homes a cold, unfeeling place. It also eerily reminds me of Smart house…and we all know how that ended. What do you think?

https://www.cbinsights.com/research/future-of-cooking-tech-trends/

http://moley.org/recipes/search

https://www.facebook.com/moleyrobotics

http://www.moley.com/about-us/

https://www.theguardian.com/lifeandstyle/2017/jun/18/great-recipe-explosion-social-media-does-more-mean-better-instagram-pinterest

https://www.cbinsights.com/research/future-of-cooking-tech-trends/

9 comments

  1. Tully Horne · ·

    Molly, great post. I think you make a great point in saying that it is sad to see a trade off of creativity for efficiency. I still associate some great memories of cooking with my mom growing up with simple meals I cook at school today. I believe that the people affected most by this movement away from creativity are kids. Kids growing up now and going forward are increasingly going to lose out on a lot of these experiences that develop a sense of imagination and creativity (i.e. cooking, going outside to play). A potential for lacking imagination and creativity can, in turn, stunt the rapid progress we see in technological development. That may be the worst-case scenario, but it is the direction we are headed with more automation.

    I also wonder how this will affect grocery shopping, both in store and online. If successful, it may become easier to create healthier meals. Since people with it would not spend as much time cooking, would they then take time to go to the grocery store? It would be interesting to see how it affects people’s shopping preferences.

    1. Molly Pighini · ·

      You make some great points, Tully. I did not think about the grocery shopping aspect, but that is something positive that could come out of this development. If people do not have to cook the food and have more time on hand, they may be more willing to shop and purchase ingredients that are better for them. It also solves the knowledge issue as well. Some people who do not know as much about cooking are hesitant to try so this could provide the means to eat healthier.

  2. This was a great post! I agree with Tully, but also might see some commercial use out of this robot? It could attract people to a restaurant where they see the robots making the food just for the experience. I have definitely seen kitchen appliances as a whole grow, tech wise. My family just recently moved and my mom went shopping for new appliances. I ran into this refrigerator that could literally do just about anything. With the touch screen on the front of it, the capabilities and applications on this fridge is endless. Also while you’re grocery shopping, if you want to double check what is actually in your fridge, you can open your phone where there’s an app that connect you to the inside of your fridge. http://www.businessinsider.com/the-refrigerator-of-the-future-2016-1. Now, cooking robots might be a bit of a stretch, but this “robot” refrigerator I think is the next step for realistic kitchens.

  3. kylepdonley · ·

    I was surprised by the robotic twist of this post! I have to say my gut reaction to this product is negative overall. At the most basic, I don’t particularly like the idea of robot arms in my kitchen handling knives and flames. More importantly, I feel like this is another product that will foster reliance on technology instead of teaching people fulfilling, life-long skills. Learning to cook is an essential skill for any human being and as @tullyhornebc mentioned, it has many associations with family, history, culture, and provides a connection to our natural world. Although I am sure there are arguments to be made like helping people eat healthier, “cook” at home more frequently, or “learn” new recipes, I can’t help but feel that this is a novelty that will get you laughed at when you host a dinner party. That being said, I really enjoyed reading your post and had no idea this existed before reading it!

  4. nescrivag · ·

    Molly this is a super interesting post! When I started reading I was expecting you to talk about some sort of appliance like a multi-function cooker that can bake/steam/fry etc. I had no idea robots were already starting to be used in kitchens. I personally think that this would be useful for super busy people that don’t enjoy cooking and just make food for the sake of having to eat.
    I personally love cooking (when I have time) and would not like to have a robot in my kitchen. A lot of the cooking process involves adjusting amounts of recipes provided. I feel like having a robot in the kitchen limits the ability to be creative and innovate with recipes because there are set ingredients and amounts that the robot will be given.
    I agree with other people who commented on this post: cooking is a tradition and some cultures have it really engrained in their families. When I go home, I love helping my mom out in the kitchen and we keep coming up with new ways to change up the recipes.
    I don’t think Moley is a bad idea but I think that it will be catered for a specific set of people.

  5. Jobabes121 · ·

    Molly, I especially loved the line “mistakes in cooking can sometimes create the best surprises.” In addition to cooking being a necessary human skill to have, it creates a bonding moment for many families and friends who are spending time together to craft a meal together. In fact, accuracy in using x amount of ingredients to make a certain dish is not necessarily important, as long as it fits your taste buds and the people you are serving. This so-called “mistakes” can vary and be intentional in many cases, and since everyone’s taste buds are different, Moley wouldn’t be that of a help in fulfilling the “best recipe” out there.

    However, for many people who simply don’t have time to cook, or are incapable of cooking due to physical disabilities, this seems to be a great option (as the price of the equipment goes down). For those who want to meal prep a week, or have a variety of food choices that are home-made, this technology would be an awesome tool. Yet, that’s what delivery is for, and I wonder if people will find a huge need for this product even in the near future when this becomes more commercialized. Unless this technology becomes extremely affordable for basic, mid to low income families, this technology would be a luxury and Grubhub will be there for hungry customers instead. Great post though!!!

  6. phanauer1 · ·

    Molly, I loved this post and had no idea that this kind of technology was already realistic and being produced! Personally, I think that this product will be successful but in a very niche market, at least for a while. Overtime it may become more mainstream, but as many others above me have said, I think that there’s something very personal and enjoyable about cooking for yourself an your family that many will not want to give up. I think this could be of great use, however, in industrial kitchens and restaurants or other places that don’t have that more personal component attached to the actual making of the food and could be a great step forward in efficient food preparation.

  7. bc_eagle1 · ·

    Incredible and love it. Obviously this is not for everyone and cooking can be a bonding and self satisfying moment for the homemaker or chef of the household. HOWEVER, if somehow this could made for the “single” guy or “women” that is on the go it seems a great idea. My other thought is that the target is for the high end bachelor or bachelorette with the income to handle. This is a growing segment that could easily be targeted. Nice find Molly!

  8. Nice post. I’m not sure that robots will actually replace the need for talented chefs or in home cooking. Rather, what they’d likely replace is fast food or less healthy options that are easily accessible.

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