How many tries does it take for a robot to screw in a lightbulb? How about flip a pancake? If the video below is any indication, IHOP won't be robotized anytime soon.
Sylvain Calinon of the Italian Institute of Technology is into teaching robots skills by first taking the bots through the steps involved. For a cooking class on pancakes, Calinon and colleagues used a seven-axis Barrett WAM robotic arm and a simulated pancake with four tracking markers.
As the video shows, the arm needs more than a bit of practice to get the right touch--it finally manages to flip a pancake into the air and catch it in the pan after about 50 tries. It seems a motion-capture system that analyzes the pancake's trajectory was essential for the right flip.
As far as cooking robots go, the WAM arm is rather half-baked. But the experiment is part of a paper submitted to the IROS 2010 conference and deals with reinforcement learning, a technique to teach robots how to manipulate objects.
Calinon has also tried teaching the robot arm how to iron. He has even tried his demonstration technique with humanoid robots and obviously has fun doing it. He has a bizarre vid in which Fujitsu's HOAP-3 robot tries to feed a robotic doll.
Robots cooking, feeding themselves, and feeding other robots. A disturbing trend?