Anybody can flip a burger, really. Even a dumb robot.
But making a pizza – that’s a lot harder.
Kneading the dough, getting it shaped right and putting the sauce and toppings on in the right places and in the right measures – that takes some thought and preparation. It’s not something a robot could do.
“RoDyMan,” short for “Robotics Dynamic Manipulation” is a robot nimble enough to stretch dough is the invention of Italian robotics engineer Bruno Siciliano.
Yes, he’s an Italian and he directs robotics research at the University of Naples.
The hard part, he says, is stretching a “deformable object” like pizza dough. It’s one of the few things only humans could handle – until now.
Siciliano’s team has been developing a robot nimble enough to whip up a pizza pie, from kneading dough to stretching it out, adding ingredients and sliding it into the oven. RoDyMan is a five-year project supported by a $3 million grant from the European Research Council. Like a human chef, RoDyMan must toss the dough into the air to stretch it, following it as it spins and anticipating how it will change shape. The bot will debut in May 2018 at the legendary Naples pizza festival.
RoDyMan has been working this spring toward a milestone: stretching the dough without tearing it. To guide the robot, Siciliano’s team recruited master pizza chef Enzo Coccia to wear a suit of movement-tracking sensors. “We learn [Coccia’s] motions, and we mimic them with RoDyMan,” Siciliano says.
All of this could be great news for the restaurant industry. They have been stretched thin by rising demands from minimum wage increases and an increasingly unhappy workforce, who always demand more.
RoDyMan uses visual sensors in its head to track the dough in real time. Using software, it can train itself to handle the pizza like a chef would—a task that is challenging because it is unwieldy and messy. The robot maps the dough’s position and tracks how it moves. Through practice, the robot can get better—much like humans develop “muscle memory.” Researchers hope RoDyMan’s technology can lead to a new generation of robots that will perform tasks in ways that are accurate, precise and responsive, if not more lifelike.
If the minimum wage keeps rising – or if $10 or $15 becomes a national phenomenon – you can expect to see RoDyMan behind the counter at your local Pizza Hut relatively soon.
Here’s an Italian video of RoDyman at work: