Web Japan > Trends in Japan > Sci-tech > Ramen Robots

Ramen Robots

Robot Chefs Herald a New Dining Experience


The two ramen robots cooking noodles. (C)AISEI Co., Ltd./aiseieng

Enlarge photo

A finished bowl of Fa-men. (C) AISEI Co., Ltd./aiseieng

Enlarge photo

Among the plethora of new robots Japanese researchers have developed are some that are able to prepare foods like ramen noodles and okonomiyaki (thick, savory pancakes), and these "robot chefs" are proving popular among diners. Far from simply preparing meals, these robots also boast a variety of talents including the ability to work in pairs, to entertain and communicate with customers, and to adapt their cooking methods in line with customers' requests.

Robotic Duo Run the ShowTwo robot chefs can be found working at a ramen outlet that opened in July 2009 in the city of Nagoya. The hinged, arm-like ramen robots at Nagoya Sohonke Fa-men have been designated the restaurant's manager and assistant manager. Human staff take customers' orders and input them into the robots, at which point the machines spring into action. The assistant robot picks up a ramen bowl, places it in the designated spot, and fills it with broth. Meanwhile, the manager robot boils the noodles, strains them, and places them in the bowl. The assistant completes the dish by adding slices of chashu (roast pork), finely chopped Welsh onions, and other toppings from a nearby tray. It takes just one minute 45 seconds for the robots to prepare a bowl of ramen, during which they punctuate their work with cries like "In goes the roast pork!" and "Order up!" Between orders they entertain customers by, for example, talking to one other, performing plate-spinning tricks, or dancing. Their intricate movements have captivated customers, and the two have become celebrities among the residents of Nagoya.

This ramen restaurant was the brainchild of industrial machine maker Aisei Co. The company's main line of business is making factory robots for automobile manufacturers; amid tough economic conditions, however, it hit upon the idea of creating noodle-cooking robots as a means both of finding new uses for its products and promoting its technology to the general public. To make the chefs, it converted two robots designed for use on factory assembly lines. The company plans to explore tie-ups with event- and restaurant-related businesses as it evaluates the results of its noodle bar experiment.

Robot Chefs for Other FoodsA number of robot chefs got the chance to demonstrate their culinary prowess at the International Food Machinery and Technology Exhibition 2009 held in Tokyo in June 2009. One, the Okonomiyaki Robot, was created by robot system integrator Toyo Riki Co. Okonomiyaki is a kind of thick, savory pancake made by mixing finely chopped cabbage with a batter of flour and egg and adding meat, squid, or other ingredients, then frying the mixture on a hot griddle. The Okonomiyaki Robot coats the griddle with cooking oil before pouring on the mixture. When one side is finished, it takes a spatula in each robotic hand and deftly flips the okonomiyaki over. The robot can also interact with diners verbally, asking them questions like "Would you prefer okonomiyaki sauce or soy sauce?" and preparing their dishes accordingly.


A robot making okonomiyaki. (C) Toyo Riki Engineering Co., Ltd.

Enlarge photo

Baba Iron Works Co., meanwhile, a maker of industrial equipment, demonstrated the talents of its Chef Robot. At the end of this robot's hinged appendage is a device modeled on a human hand, with fingers capable of grasping pieces of sushi and placing them carefully onto customers' plates. Yet another entry, this one from food packaging and packing equipment maker Oshio Industry Co., lends a robotic hand to pizza making. The Topping Robot uses vacuum suction to pick up salami, shrimp, and other toppings from a conveyor belt and place them quickly and precisely onto pizza bases.

These and the many other robots showcased at the International Food Machinery and Technology Exhibition show that robotic chefs, once the stuff of science fiction, could soon be making their way to a restaurant near you. (December 2009)

Page Top

Related Articles