Sony, Carnegie Mellon form partnership to research cooking robots

The skills needed for food preparation and delivery could be applied to a number of other industries and tasks, Sony and CMU said.

Flippy the burger-flipping robot may have blazed new trails for robots in the food industry, but he's likely to have some new competition soon.

Sony and Carnegie Mellon University (CMU) announced Wednesday that they're teaming up to research areas of artificial intelligence and robotics, beginning with food preparation, cooking and delivery.

They're starting with this area of research because the skills needed for food preparation and delivery could be applied to a number of other industries and tasks, Sony and CMU explained in their announcement. For instance, teaching machines to handle fragile and irregularly shaped materials could come in handy for other household or small business tasks. Additionally, food preparation robots would have to learn to operate in small areas -- another skill that would be useful in a variety of industries.

While the skills these robots will learn will have broad applications, they could also be put to good use directly within the food industry. Technology companies, restaurants, and other companies in the food industry are already finding ways to use automation to cut back on labor costs and to make repetitive food-preparation tasks more efficient. For example, the robotics startup Zume Pizza is automating pizza production, while the company Chowbotics has created a salad-making robot named Sally.

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The newly announced research will primarily take place at CMU's School of Computer Science in Pittsburgh, with faculty and students participating. For Sony, Dr. Hiroaki Kitano, president and CEO of Sony Computer Science Laboratories, will serve as project lead.

"This project has the potential to make the vast possibilities of AI and robotics more familiar and accessible to the general public," Kitano said in a statement. "Additionally, it could also assist those for whom daily tasks, such as food preparation, are challenging. I am very excited to be working with the talented scientists at CMU to make this vision a reality."

In addition to this project, Sony plans to support CMU's AI and robotics-related R&D through its Seed Acceleration Program (SAP), Sony's business incubation platform and its corporate VC fund, the Sony Innovation Fund.