Robots in the kitchen? It’s closer than you might think

Around the world more and more industries are leveraging new technologies and automation to make themselves more efficient, increase margins and reduce their dependence on scarce human resources. Montreal’s YPC Technologies now brings that mentality to the kitchen. Yes, a robot can now make your dinner and there are thousands of recipes to chose from.

Tucked away in a small office near Little Italy, a small team of innovators has been hard at work building an automated kitchen in a class cage. It contains 1 robotic arm, 7 cooking devices, 2 racks of ingredients and a window that opens and closes for human assistance and interaction.

“There will always be a human involved in some way” says Gunnar Grass, founder and CEO of YPC Technologies. “We are still very far from being able to do plating. And some other tasks like adding butter or searing a steak will still have to be performed by humans for now.”

Plating aside, Grass’ invention is pretty impressive. The robotic arm takes ingredients off the shelf and either adds them directly in to a cooking device, or mixes them in a separate bin before adding them to the concoction. The system they’ve built can cook thousands of recipes, which YPC claims is a global first. The system also controls these cooking devices which can chop, blend or puree food as well as well as cook it. Outside the cage is a screen and a large red button. The screen displays the status of all the machines (some may be off, while other may be cooking at several hundred degrees). It also tells the human working with the machine if anything needs to be done, for example if any special ingredient needs to be added, or if the dish needs to be removed from the device and served. Once the human completes the task as instructed, he or she presses the red button which tells the system that it may now proceed to the next step in the recipe.

This becomes more impressive when multiple recipes are being made at the same time. Instructions on the screen may say “add bananas to pot 1” (for banana ice cream) and seconds later the screen might read “add garlic to pot 6” (for risotto).

There is prep work involved in preparing some of the foods and stocking the shelves for the machine. Some of that will also be automated over time as new features, more machine learning and computer vision are eventually added. But Grass believes that for a mid-sized kitchen, the kind you might find in some offices, seniors’ homes or cafeterias, his system can provide tremendous cost savings over time. The German-born founder insists his objective is to return fresh cooking to the people, which is gradually disappearing due to today’s modern lifestyle. There are competitors in this space, but they are virtually all focussed on fast food, and don’t offer healthy options.

As part of a demo last week for MTLinTech, the YPC system (short for Your Personal Chef) served up fresh made asparagus soup, mushroom risotto and a delicious banana sorbet. All of which was made simultaneously by the system, in under half an hour. The number of recipes this system can put together is one of the features that makes it unique. However, Grass explains that each of the recipes can be modified quickly and easily, adding extra ingredients, reducing the amount of salt or other seasonings. “The recipes right now are ok” he says. “Pretty good for a bunch of engineers anyway. But they are easy to tweak so it can be modified for people’s different tastes.”

The inspiration for YPC came when Grass created a machine to mix cocktails in his home. His friends loved it. Then he realized how much more he could do by pivoting to food. Initially he started bout building the hardware too, but after “a few fires”, it became clear that sourcing the equipment was a better option, and they pivoted to their current model in 2018.

YPC is hoping to be the first mover in the “Cooking as a Service” market. They are looking to raise a round in the short term to add new features, and have already approached companies like Sodexho about partnerships. Grass believes the system he and his team have created can create process optimizations in certain sized kitchens that produce 2.7 times the performance of a human alone. Add to that the value of a reduced amount of training and turnover in staff, and there just may be a YPC robot preparing a meal for you in the near future.


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