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Wednesday, January 07, 2009

Robot of the Day: Winebot, the Wine Tasting Robot

Researchers at NEC and Mie University, both in Japan, came up with a robot, the Winebot, that is capable of distinguishing good wine from bad wine, tell you the brand, and also suggest side dishes that will go well alongside the wine. It is also capable of identifying different cheeses and hors d'oeuvres.

Wait a second. What are hors d'oeuvres? I've never heard of this word before. So I did a google search, and there is actually a wikipedia entry of it (including a sound file for pronunciation). Basically, it means appetizer.

Cold Hors d'œuvre

When presented with three apples, without actually taking a bite, the robot was able to separate the sweet one from the two sour ones. So how does the robot do it? There is actually an infrared spectrometer at the end of the robot's left arm. When objects are placed up against the sensor, the robot fires off a beam of infrared light and then analyze the reflected light in real time. It takes advantage of the fact that different food would have different reflection ratio of light per wavelength for water, protein, etc., kind of like unique "fingerprints", in order to distinguish them.

Just to add a bit more fun, because it is analyzing the chemical composition of the wine or food placed before it, it can also alert its owner to possible health issues, gently warning against fatty or salty products. However, it is not capable of detecting drunkenness, which could have been another great feature.

However, when the Winebot makes mistakes, the consequences could be dramatic. When a reporter’s hand was placed against the robot’s taste sensor, it was identified as prosciutto. A cameraman was mistaken for bacon.

This cute robot is about 2 feet tall, can slightly swivel its head, and when it speaks in a child-like voice, lights flash around its mouth. If you think this makes a great birthday or Christmas present, think again! It cost as much as a new car. With that amount of money, I would have expected the robot to
  • cook for me
  • wash the dishes
  • make beds
  • clean the house
  • take out the garbage
  • mow the lawn
  • rake the leaves
  • shovel the snow
  • and the list goes on and on and on ...

Take a short break from your busy life so you can appreciate the beautiful things you might be ignoring.