Meet the Robot Chefs

By staff reporter DANG XIAOFEI

ANYONE who visited the Shanghai World Expo may remember “Aike,” the robot chef able to make 99 dishes. For those who didn’t, our regular readers may remember China Today’s report on this event. Three years later, Aike is now smaller and has learned to cook five more dishes. These robots have now hit the market, with the total number reaching 600 to 700, and will soon be used on the Liaoning aircraft carrier fleet.

Recently two robot chefs have also appeared in the student’s canteen of Beijing Jiaotong University (BJTU). As this is the first time robots have been used at a Chinese university, our China Today reporter went along to investigate.

Three Minutes to Cook a Dish

There are two robot chefs at the No. 2 canteen of the BJTU. They look like roller washing machines, about one meter high and 50 centimeters in diameter. Near the cylinder is a kettle and a high-pressure water gun. On the left side is a cabinet with a switch and a small operation panel. On the right side is a shelf for seasonings.

Each machine is controlled by an operator. After pushing the “Fish-flavored Sliced Pork” button the robot’s big belly starts to roll. The operator adds sauce, lettuce stems, carrots and other seasonings according to the robot’s instructions, and the rolling drum automatically stir-fries the ingredients.

After three minutes a huge bowl of fished-flavored sliced pork is served. Before, it would take a human chef between four to six minutes to stir-fry the dish. “We use the robot to make 80 cylinders of dishes per day, each one enough to serve 50 people,” said Wang Na, an employee at the catering service center of the BJTU. “The dishes made by robots taste just like those made by human chefs,” said Li Yang, a sophomore at the School of Electrical Engineering of the BJTU.

The robots are manufactured in Shenzhen by Pansum Technology Co., Ltd. “Our robot chefs can make almost any dish from the eight cuisines of China,” said Sun Shili, vice president of Pansum. “We set the recipes according to our customers’ requirements.”

Energy Saving and Reduced Emissions

While stir-frying dishes, the robot produces very little smoke. “According to preliminary statistics, compared with the traditional gas stove, robot chefs save about 50 percent of water and gas,” said Wang Na.

Sun Shili added that the robot chef saves 20 to 50 percent of energy and releases about one eighth of the smoke and fumes produced by a human chef cooking the same dish.

Two robots do the work of four chefs at the No. 2 student canteen of the BJTU. “The monthly salary of each chef is about RMB 3,000 to 3,500. The robot chefs hence save us over RMB 10,000 per month,” said Wang Na.

The robots also use less water for cleaning. A human chef washes a wok many times under running water. However, the robot is cleaned by a high-pressure water gun, which can completely clean the cylinder in a single flush.

Wang Na also explained that the non-stick cylinder saves oil when frying eggs. “Our chefs did a test. In a traditional wok on a stove, it normally requires 1.5 to 2 kilograms of oil to fry 10 kilograms of eggs. A robot needs just 250 grams to fry the same amount,” said Wang.

The price for each robot chef is RMB 182,000. “However, it is every effective in terms of saving gas, water, edible oil and labor. We think that we can recover the cost within two years,” said Wang.

Currently the BJTU adopts half-automatic robots, which require extensive preparation of ingredients. “Operators have to prepare the right amount and proportion of both ingredients and seasonings according to the recipes,” said Sun Shili. “We also have automatic robots, but they aren’t so advanced. They can only produce three servings of food in one go,” Sun added.

1   2