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Researchers in Naples Are Struggling to Build a Robot That Can Make Pizza From Scratch

RoDyMan the pizza-bot has bendable arms, hands and fingers, but it can’t stretch dough without tearing it.



Famed pizzaiolo Enzo Coccia dons a motion-capture suit to help a pizza-bot learn to move and manipulate objects like humans do.

 

Pizza chefs don’t have to worry about being replaced by robots just yet. Researchers in Naples have found that highly advanced machines can barely even stretch dough without tearing it, much less build a pizza from start to finish on their own. And even the project’s director says he would never eat pizza made by mechanical hands.

According to Scientific American, Bruno Siciliano and a team of engineers at the University of Naples Federico II are trying to design a robot that can make a pizza from scratch, including kneading and stretching the dough, saucing and topping the crust and popping it into the oven.

Called RoDyMan (short for Robotic Dynamic Manipulation), the bot is outfitted with powerful sensors that allow it to “sense the world in extraordinary detail and move with impeccable precision.” It also has bendable arms, hands and fingers. As the video below demonstrates, it can handle a pizza peel and toss a fake piece of dough—well, sort of—but it still has a lot to learn before it will be able to accurately mimic simple motions that come easily and without any real thought to humans.

Working with master pizzaiolo Enzo Coccia, who runs a renowned pizza academy and two pizza restaurants in Naples, the researchers are using motion-capture technology—well-known for its applications in films like the Lord of the Rings trilogy—to teach RoDyMan to carry itself more like a human being.

While performing tasks like stretching pizza dough, Coccia wears a suit of movement-tracking sensors, and the engineers try to digitally map, analyze and reproduce those motions in RoDyMan, which should eventually be able to teach itself to handle pizza like a professional chef through practice.

In an article on his website last year, Coccia said the roboticists have taken on “a very demanding challenge.” He wrote, “I have a great responsibility as I have to teach it all the things related to the Neapolitan pizza: the dough grasp; the precision grasp in the toss phase, in which you have to grab and release the dough disc while assessing the texture, too; the movements between the palm and the thumb; the bimanuality; and I have to be able to instill the organizational strategy in bimanual tasks as well.” 

Siciliano’s team plans to debut RoDyMan at a pizza festival in Naples next year. But Siciliano admitted to Scientific American that robot-made pizza would always lack that certain something. “I would never eat a pizza made by a robot,” he said. “It would not have the taste a real pizzaiolo, with his soul, would put in it.”

 

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