Intelligent Machines

Snackbot

Welsh researchers are making robots that they hope will thrive in the refrigerated environments of the British snack food industry. The vision-endowed machine devised by Jem Rowland and Mark Lee of the University of Wales in Aberstwyth first examines a finished food product. The robot then makes a replica, using image processing to figure out which ingredients to fetch in sequence. Beyond building a better burrito, Rowland and Lee see their work as a step toward mass customization. Their robot would spare programmers from having to write code specifying that two slices of tomato and a pickle belong on every robo-sandwich. The Wales team is working in collaboration with three U.K. food companies-Solway Foods, Rutland Handling and R.F. Brooks-and has demonstrated the robot with simulated food. Rowland and Lee have expressed no plans to develop a home version that auto-assembles sandwiches in the kitchen fridge.

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