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SliceIt! Why Not Teach Robots To Use Knives?

Although science fiction authors imagine that robots with knives may not be the most cheerful scenario, it's still a practical use for our mechanical friends - witness the Kebab Robot Hyperslicer.

You may not be up to that level in your kitchen, however. Perhaps you just want a robot to play nice while making dinner?

Cooking robots have the potential to greatly enhance the home experience by automating food preparation tasks. However, enabling a robot to safely and dexterously manipulate kitchen tools like knives while handling delicate food items poses significant challenges. This study tackles the problem of training a robot arm to perform robust and compliant slicing motions on food items with varying material properties. We present SliceIt!, a simulation-based framework for training robust food-slicing skills through reinforcement learning before deployment on the physical robot. Our approach follows a real-to-sim-to-real pipeline: first collecting a small dataset of real food-cutting examples, then calibrating high-fidelity simulations of knife-food cutting interactions and robot motion control. Reinforcement learning agents are trained in this calibrated simulation environment to learn optimal compliance control policies that modulate knife forces. The learned policies are then transferred to the real robot, enabling it to perform intricate food-slicing tasks efficiently and safely by leveraging simulation-based policy training while minimizing real-world training risks, effort, and food waste.

(Via SliceIt!: Simulation-Based Reinforcement Learning for Compliant Robotic Food Slicing.)

Consider the robotic abbatoir from Freedom's Landing, by Anne McCaffrey, published by Ace Books in 1996:

One building now gushed forth smoke and another stench that was unmistakable. Kris had encountered it once before when she passed a meat-packing company on a detour through a grotty area of Denver. The abattoir? And it was opposite buildings that resembled the barn they'd been in that night. To confirm her hideous surmise, the double doors of one of the barns now opened and its inhabitants, comprised of the six-legged grazers and some other smaller and different types, were being herded into the abattoir by a curious mechanical which had long extendable "arms" and which spat electrical sparks at laggard beasts.

However, its vision skills might not be up to the standard set by the Knife-Wielding Robot With X-Ray Vision now in use in meat-processing plants in New Zealand.

Update: 28-May-2024: A reader pointed out to me in a comment that Monty Python had done a sketch in which an apartment block designed by a man who thus far had only designed slaughterhouses is shown to investors:

End update.

Scroll down for more stories in the same category. (Story submitted 5/10/2024)

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