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A robotic arm helped Dennis Hong whip up a sea bass dish for Gordon Ramsay of the Fox cooking show “MasterChef.”
Courtesy of Dennis Hong
The Culinary Assistant Robotic Limb is a robotic arm with a thumb and two fingers that performs a variety of manual tasks. It was created in Virginia Tech’s Robotics & Mechanisms laboratory.
Saturday, May 25, 2013
Dennis Hong, a professor of mechanical engineering at Virginia Tech, wanted the world to see his team’s new robotic limb.
His strategy: an audition on “MasterChef,” the cooking show on Fox.
It didn’t completely work, but he did give TV viewers something to see Wednesday night.
Of 8,000 competitors who sought to be on the show, Hong, 42, was one of about 95 allowed to audition for the reality show’s currently airing segment, which is designed to find the best home cook.
Hong, who considers his cooking gourmet, traveled to the audition in Los Angeles in January with Charli2, a human-sized robot built by a student-faculty team at Tech’s Robotics & Mechanisms laboratory. The robot has received such honors as 2011 Best Invention of the Year from Time magazine. Popular Science in 2010 called its predecessor, Charli, the world’s first humanoid robot.
But what Hong most wanted to highlight on TV was a separate black robotic arm with a thumb and two fingers that performs a variety of manual tasks. A new invention of the lab, the experimental device is called the Culinary Assistant Robotic Limb. In concept, it could be refined to help the elderly and people with disabilities in everyday tasks such as cooking, Hong said.
During the audition, to showcase the technology, Hong cooked the meal he presented to judges with some assistance from the arm, which was mounted on a vertical stand.
Things went well to a point. Gordon Ramsay, the host of the show, took a bite and told Hong that his noodles lacked seasoning. Hong told Ramsay the idea was to eat them with a sea bass piece also on the plate, to which Ramsay said, “Oh, I see. I apologize,” Hong said.
Hong was nonetheless cut from the show, failing to win one of 40 slots to advance to the next round. Moreover, the network did not air any footage of the limb. Viewers did see Hong and Charli2. Not visible to TV viewers, Charli2 received a white apron, a symbol of approval.
Next up, Hong said, the arm will be attached to a multimillion-dollar machine under construction called the Tactical Hazardous Operations Robot. It is being built for a Department of Defense contest designed to produce a new robot capable of saving people trapped in a disastrous event that is too dangerous for first responders to enter.
Led by the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, the contest is a response to the Fukushima nuclear plant disaster on March 11, 2011, in which three reactors partially melted down after being flooded in an earthquake-caused tsunami. Though a leader in robotics, Japan didn’t have any robots available to assess the damaged equipment, Tech has said.
The current contest, which runs until late 2014, goes well beyond slicing veggies.
“The adult-sized robot must be designed to enter a vehicle, drive it, and then exit the vehicle, walk over rubble, clear objects blocking a door, open the door, and enter a building. The robot then must visually and audibly locate and shut off a leaking valve, connect a hose or connector, climb an industrial ladder and traverse an industrial walkway. The final and possibly most difficult task: Use a power tool and break through a concrete wall. All these tasks must be accomplished under a set time limit,” according to a news release from Tech.
Hong has dubbed the effort, which has a $4 million budget, the greatest challenge of his career.
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