I’ve said this many times: I know there are serious topics in the world today.
But since I launched this blog last year, I’ve talked about how mapo tofu – and its spicy, sweat-inducing, numbing taste – is one of my favorite foods around.
With the right amounts of garlic, chili and Sichuan peppercorn, your cold can be down on the ground in minutes.
Now, thanks to Alaric Bien, a friend who pointed this out, it looks like there’s a robot that can use a wok like the best chef around and knows how to whip up more than 600 dishes.
I certainly hope that includes regional specialities such as Cantonese, Chaozhou, Sichuan, Shanghai and Shandong – not to mention hand-pulled or shaved noodles, like you can find in Lanzhou or Xian.
Researchers from Shanghai Jiaotong University (which has been in the news) and Yangzhou University teamed up with a Shenzhen business to unveil the robot, which looks like a big box that cradles a wok, according to Xinhua, the Chinese news agency.
The folks at Popular Science found this video of an earlier version of the robot – which at that point made kung pao chicken.
The man in the video talks about safety features.
As for the taste of the food?
That remains unclear – at least from an April 7 demonstration in China’s Jiangsu province.
Xinhua dispatched photographer Zhao Jun to document the robot-created food.
Two women attended the event and apparently ate a dish of meat and vegetables.
Popular Science, though, throws this tidbit into the mix:
Although details of the invention process have yet to be released, sources report that one only needs to dispense the ingredients into the machine, program it, and await a delicious meal.
Just precious – on many levels.
First, a robot that can make hundreds of types of Chinese dishes.
Second, apparently the word “sources” had to be used because, well, it appeared no one felt comfortable enough to go on the record to state that a human has to load the ingredients and program it.
By the way, since rice cookers also need people to load and program them, are they considered robots?
I should note that some of the best online comments were posted on Sina.
From someone who goes by Billy Bob (The Moon):
Who shops? Who loads the igrediants? Who cleans? Who do I blame if raw chicken sickens me?
If you’re at a restaurant that uses a robotic wok, I guess the owner or manager might have a new way to talk about plausible deniability because, technically, a human actually didn’t cook the food.
From someone who uses the online handle of BurgerChimp (Earth):
i, for one, welcome our new giant wok robot overlords. can it cook burgers?
Probably so: Beef, chicken, and if programmed just right, salmon.
But let’s elevate this concept just a bit more.
Who should bring this food to you?
ASIMO, the Honda robot, is a predictable choice.
Besides ASIMO already has introduced a hybrid car and led a symphony of humans – and bringing food might, well, not be on its list of preferred outcomes.
What about a robot dog?
This could generate some publicity, some online buzz, some zip for the drive, some juice for the iPhone video.
BostonDynamics has a robotic dog - which could be a very sanitary way for the food to be sent to the right place.
This is getting better as we go!
Of course, if we want to go with a complete all-robot theme here, we really don’t need humans to be in the picture to taste the food.
Now, I have not come across any robot that can actually digest food made for humans – and remember, robots really don’t need a regular diet of protein and vitamins.
I should note that I’m human – as compared to some computer software that can type up blog posts.
But what about a robot that is doing the job of a human journalist and documenting all the demonstrations of this wok robot and BigDog?
Is this the coolest or what?
OK, I am human. I’ve always been on Team Human.
So, let’s do it this way: Let’s have a cook-off, just like they have on Iron Chef.
Iron Chef has brought on humans in a tofu battle.
We should do the same but a mapo tofu chef vs. the robotic competitor.
It would be classic.
I’ll point out right now that the human chef can actually tilt the wok at different angles than what the robot can.
But that can change, you know.