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Robot cooks are just food processors with extra steps

Cooking robots are big news, and as soon as I learned about them, I was excited. Who doesn’t want a robot like the Jetson’s Rosie that will cook you a delicious hot meal any time of the day?

With names like Julia and Thermomix TM6, I could just picture these robots serving me eggs and toast when I wake up every morning. I was about to be so pampered. Move over coffee maker with a timer. There’s a new appliance that’ll be my favorite morning companion.

Then I took a closer look at these so-called robots, and my hopes were quickly dashed.

What are cooking robots?

The newest robot on the block is Julia, the “Intelligent Autonomous Cooking System” by CookingPal. It’s billed as the cooking robot that can do it all. It can shop for food, weigh food, chop, mix, blend, emulsify, grate, boil, knead, steam and even wash itself.

Unveiled at the CES 2020, Julia won an Innovation Award and made our list of weird smart home gadgets of CES 2020. It sounds awesome, but Julia hasn’t been released yet. It is scheduled to retail for just under $1,000 and will be on sale in the late summer of 2020, according to CookingPal.

CookingPal Julia System
Image used with permission by copyright holder

Julia isn’t the first of its kind. The Thermomix TM6 came out in the spring of 2019, and is the newest in Thermomix’s line of cooking bots. Like Julia, it can handle a list of cooking tasks like blending, boiling, browning, chopping, whisking, caramelizing, steaming, sautéing, kneading and emulsifying. Unlike Julia, you can buy the TM6 now, for $1,499.

A giant among kitchen equipment

These so-called robots are high-tech, but they’re not the autonomous, humanoid chefs you might imagine. They’re just enormous appliances with a tablet.

Thermomix TM6 and a KitchenAid mixer
Alina Bradford/Digital Trends

When I say enormous, I mean it. Thermomix sent me the TM6 to try out, and I literally couldn’t find a place in my kitchen to put it. When I set it on the counter, it hung off the edge. I put it on my island, but there’s no outlet on my island. Eventually, I had to scoot a rolling prep cart over to an outlet and set the TM6 on top. I sat my KitchenAid mixer next to it, which is a behemoth of its own, and the TM6 was about twice as wide.

Ready, set…follow directions!

Now that I had a place for it, it was time for sweet, sweet effort-free meals, right? Not so much. While these robots can do everything from whip to sous vide, it still needs a human at the helm for every step. They’re advanced food processors that can cook, not robots.

If anything, I felt like the robot.

You choose a recipe on the tablet. The appliance tells you step-by-step when to add ingredients, when to turn on the mixer, when to take the ingredients out of the appliance and put it into a baking pan. If anything, I felt like the robot. The machine told me what to do, and I did it.

In the end, the Thermomix TM6 didn’t save me time. I still had to wash the vegetables, make the measurements, add the ingredients, just like I would with any other food processor. It did pack a lot of different appliances into one, however, which might save space. It could replace my KitchenAid mixer, cooking scale, sous vide machine, slow cooker, steamer, bread machine, and kettle.

Not useless, but not a robot

If you like to cook, or want to learn the art of cooking, cooking robots aren’t for you. They take all of the creativity out of the act. I suppose that if you were looking for a robot to cook your meals, cooking isn’t a hobby anyway unless you live a busy lifestyle and need a break.

The only way you could conceivably mess up is if you didn’t follow the directions and went rogue.

Who are these appliances for? I think they’ll appeal most to people who don’t know how to cook but are sick of takeout. They give you foolproof instructions on how to create a dish from beginning to end. The only way you could mess up is if you didn’t follow the directions.

So, these so-called cooking robots aren’t useless. But my longing for a Rosie-like cooking robot continues. Maybe, one day, we’ll see a more automated cooking process. Today is not that day.

Alina Bradford
Alina Bradford has been a tech, lifestyle and science writer for more than 20 years. Her work is read by millions each month…
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