Engineers at Cambridge Consultants have created a prototype system that uses robotics and artificial intelligence to clear dirty plates, cutlery and glassware from food trays.
Developed for a multinational commercial catering company, Turbo Clean is claimed to automate one of the least loved jobs in the kitchen. Thousands of images of messy food trays with different combinations of tableware were first used to train an algorithm, eventually allowing the system to recognise new patterns independently. When presented with a tray, machine vision detects the contents, labelling the various glasses, plates and cutlery. Robotic arms with suction capability then remove the items from the tray and deposit them in their assigned container, ready to be sent to a dishwasher.
“It’s widely accepted that AI and robotics will impact almost every business. But it’s vital to understand both what is technically possible and what is commercially viable, to ensure that a business thrives through this time of technological revolution,” said Nathan Wrench, commercial director at Cambridge Consultants.
“Working with our client, we were able to design a system that uses a novel combination of technologies and to take them from initial discovery right through to the prototype ready for commercialisation. We look forward to continuing our support in the future.”
Cambridge Consultants initially analysed a multitude of kitchen tasks to determine which were most suited to automation. In doing this, it considered not just the practicalities and commercial value, but also the human value of no longer being burdened with the task. The catering operation that staff most wanted automated and which also offered solid commercial benefits was the clearing of trays and washing of dishes. According to Cambridge Consultants, the Turbo Clean system can process a tray every six seconds and its development has led to the creation of significant intellectual property (IP) for the client’s catering business.