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Don’t believe the marketing! Robot chefs aren’t what you think they are

There’s nothing more disappointing than misleading marketing. You purchased a bottle of the hottest hot sauce because, based on its advertising, you expect it to numb all your senses, only to discover it barely passes as Taco Bell’s mild sauce. Maybe you ran out to buy a “wearable air conditioner” because you’re sick of sweating through your outdoor workout garb, but find out too late that you invested in nothing more than a glorified cooling neckband.

While I’m no expert on the fine-printed inner workings of the marketing world, I think we can all agree that one of the main goals of any type of marketing, regardless of the brand, service, or event, is to generate awareness and hype. This is more than understandable, as companies should want to lasso in prospective buyers with alluring lingo. But sometimes the hype train is a bit overloaded and can derail expectations when consumers like you and me finally get our hands on the goods or services being hailed.

When it comes to the smart home, there are a number of smart devices that are easy to install, great to use, and appropriately advertised … for the most part. Let’s aim the spyglass a bit closer on one part of the home that may be a misleading for the average consumer — the smart kitchen and our future robot chefs.

The dream of robot chefs

Imagine ambling downstairs in the morning, eyes still half-shut, entering your kitchen, and proclaiming to thin air: “Breakfast. Now.” Then, in seconds flat, an autonomous pair of ceiling-mounted robotic arms roar to life, greeting you in your language of choice. As you park yourself at the kitchen island and begin sorting through your phone’s inundated inbox, the bot arms get to work cracking eggs, grinding coffee beans, selecting plates and cutlery for your morning spread, and ensuring the stovetop burners are set to the ideal temperature.

In less than 10 minutes, your robot chef is finished. After serving you the grub, it’s even smart enough to reclaim the sullied silverware, carrying it to the sink to get a good scrub — a proper dishwashing the bot arms perform themselves.

Believe it or not, such a futuristic concept of an automated kitchen is already upon us, or at least in the final stages of development — although the marketed idea of an all-knowing, all-doing robot chef may be a bit off the mark based on what many intrigued consumers might expect.

The reality of robot chefs

Samsung Bot Chef in action.

Robot chefs, whether a sentient pair of bot arms or a dedicated small appliance, are beginning to find their ways into our homes. Products like the Julia by Nymble, a Delhi, India-based startup, and Thermomix’s TM6 cooking bot promise a smart cooking experience like no other. But, as we’ve previously discovered, these bots that are marketed as a complete cooking solution are, in reality, nothing more than touchscreen-interactive small appliances that will still have you doing a decent amount of prep work, ingredient-measuring, and other parts of the cooking process that one may expect a robot chef to totally take the reins on.

Then there are the price points: Currently, devices like the Julia and the TM6 are going for around $1,000 or more. In terms of rail-mounted robotic arms like the Samsung Bot Chef and Moley’s The Kitchen, you better brace for impact. Yes, you can expect these tech chefs to prepare and cook up to 5,000 different recipes, with their digitized limbs and digits designed to replicate the fluid motions of master chefs. But the current sticker price, at least for The Kitchen, is $335,000. For that chunk of change, you could buy a two-story turn-key home.

Like the early days of any technological movement, the prices are more aligned with the pocketbooks of luxury lifestyles, at least during this phase of existence. As time goes on, it’s likely that the prices of arm-based robot chefs will come down, although how much remains to be seen.

The affordable alternatives

Thermomix TM6 and a KitchenAid mixer

In the meantime, we’re left with more affordable products like the Julia and the TM6, robot chefs that are advertised as do-it-all devices, when in reality, the human touch is still an essential part of the preparation and cooking process for both appliances. Oh, marketing. How you fool thee.

It sounds like we’re heading down a sure bummer of a path. Yes, there are robot chefs. No, they’re not lovingly priced for the average homeowner. No, they’re not entirely residential-friendly yet (the commercial kitchen has its own world of almighty robot chefs). And no, the robot chef advertised as your one-stop-shop for all things cooking still requires your hands and brain.

You may be asking yourself: Is there any way to outfit a full smart kitchen without taking out a second mortgage? The answer is yes, with the caveat being that your approach for a tech-outfitted cooking space may need to be a little more piecemeal than you initially imagined.

How to assemble your own smart kitchen

Did you know that the Amazon Echo speaker you purchased for streaming music and streamlining your schedule can be used as a smart kitchen controller? The same goes for devices like Google’s Nest Audio and Apple’s HomePod speaker. Classified as interactive smart hubs, one of best things about these web-connected speakers are that they allow you to control and manage whatever smart devices you’re running in your home (as long as Brand A is compatible with Brand B).

There’s nothing like telling Alexa to “turn the thermostat down 10 degrees” and having Amazon’s voice assistant interact with your Ecobee Smart Thermostat without you so much as lifting a finger. The same goes for door locks, lighting, blinds, home security products, and any other smart gear you can toss into your home’s equation. And, best of all, the fun doesn’t stop in the kitchen.

Yes, you’ll see many smart speakers being marketed for their kitchen-friendly abilities. While this normally applies to skills like being able to ask Google Assistant how many cups are in a quart, or using your Echo Show smart display to read a recipe as you’re throwing a meal together, there are a number of smart home devices tailor-made for the kitchen that your smart hub can help you control.

A Moen smart faucet.
Image used with permission by copyright holder

Say you’re preparing dinner and have something roasting on the stove, but you need to fill up a pot with water. Instead of being sequestered to your sink as your potatoes start to brown out of your reach, you could use a smart faucet to free you up. Instead of having to deal with measuring out the exact amount of water your dish requires, you can simply say to your nearby Echo Dot, “Alexa, pour one cup of water.” Without you even having to touch the faucet, your smart hub will cue the sink device, dispersing exactly how much water you requested.

If you find that you’re always scrambling to get food prepared in time, there are a number of popular slow cookers that can integrate with your home Wi-Fi. Take the Instant Pot Smart Wi-Fi Pressure Cooker, for instance. Once you’ve connected the cooker to your Wi-Fi, you can use Alexa to take charge, asking the voice assistant to search for popular recipes and to fire up a soup-cooking cycle. Additional customizations are available in the Instant Pot companion app, too.

The Instant Pot Smart Wi-Fi on a table.
Image used with permission by copyright holder

From smart fridges that keep tabs on the foods you may need to run to the store for to smart dishwashers that can be powered on while you’re driving home, the list of smart kitchen appliances that you can pair with your home’s smart hub grows by the day. And by adding a smart plug or two into the mix, you can easily automate a number of common kitchen appliances that may not have their feet in the smart waters just yet.

So, when it seems doubtful that the prices of true robot chefs will ever approach numbers that most humans can fathom, do know that you can still have a great smart kitchen experience with a solid smart hub and a number of high-quality (and price-friendly) countertop companion devices.

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Michael Bizzaco
Michael Bizzaco has been writing about and working with consumer tech for well over a decade, writing about everything from…
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