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UCLA roboticist joins hands with S. Korean food tech firm to develop cooking robots

By Lim Chang-won Posted : July 29, 2019, 14:34 Updated : July 29, 2019, 14:34

[Courtesy of Woowa Brothers]

SEOUL -- Dennis Hong, a prominent Korean-American roboticist and professor at the University of California, Los Angeles, joined hands with Woowa Brothers, the operator of South Korea's top food delivery service, to develop robots capable of carrying out various tasks for cooking.

The joint project code-named "YORI," or cooking in Korean, will involve engineers from Robotics and Mechanisms Laboratory (RoMeLa), a research lab founded by Hong, and Woowa Brothers, which runs Baedal Minjok, the leading food delivery service in South Korea. It requires three to four years of research.

"With RoMeLa, we will gradually develop practical robot technologies that can naturally permeate our lives," Kim Yo-seop, director of Woowa's robot delivery division, said in a statement on Monday.

The project aims to create a "cook-only" robot, which is different from industrial robot arms for factories, and develop it to a level that can be used in restaurants, food manufacturing facilities and even in homes and offices for personal use, Woowa said.

The global food robot market will reach $2.5 billion by 2022, according to Markets and Markets, a market research company. There are a number of projects to develop food robots that would help workers like Flippy, a patty-flipping robot developed by U.S.-based company Miso Robot, which made its grand debut inside the kitchen of Caliburger in March 2018.

Unlike existing robots which can only carry out a limited task, RoMeLa and Woowa plan to develop cooking robots capable of digesting various movements and functions such as cutting food ingredients and flipping fans.

Woowa, which has invested heavily in developing autonomous robots for restaurants and self-driving food delivery vehicles, said that along with hardware, software such as ordering food and downloading recipes would make it possible to enjoy luxury dishes at home with the help of robots.

"The key to this project is to transform the long-standing human diet," Hong was quoted as saying."Robots are a means to advance the future we draw, and the process of developing robots will soon be an exciting process to change our lives more conveniently and well-off."

Last week, Woowa opened "Merry-go Kitchen," an Italian fusion restaurant backed by self-driving service robots in southern Seoul, utilizing new technologies such as a smart order and payment system. Two types of robots were deployed, one moving around the hall and the other sliding on the monorail.

Woowa's final goal is to produce robots capable of roaming freely through the crowded urban streets to deliver food from restaurants to customers. In December last year, Woowa partnered with Hyundai Movex, an automated logistics system provider, to develop autonomous delivery robots capable of moving between floors.

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