Researchers are helping usher in the era of robot maids and mechanoid butlers.
However bad you might be at baking, you can take heart that the PR2 robot finds it a heck of a lot more tricky that you will. Researchers at MIT are going through the painstaking process of teaching the robot to make chocolate chip cookies, and that involves a surprising amount of work.
While a human cook has relatively little trouble mixing the ingredients and mixing them into cookie dough, PR2 has to be taught step-by-step. First, the robot scans the table to locate the cookie sheet at the butter, and then it identifies all the ingredients. The researchers placed the ingredients in different colored bowls so that the robot could tell them apart. The robot then adds the ingredients to a mixing bowl, and begins to mix them all together. At least, that's the plan; the robot is currently working with dry beans, as it hasn't quite mastered mixing yet and so makes a lot of mess.
It's taken a lot of effort to get the robot to the level it's at now, and it's still a work in progress. Graduate student Mario Bellini has spent months working on the initial stages, and another grad student, Jenny Barry, is working with a team of undergraduates on getting the robot to do things like open the oven door and wipe down the counter when it's finished.
Teaching a robot to bake might seem like a slightly frivolous thing to do, but it does neatly illustrate how hard it is to get a robot to follow a complex set of instructions. This is the kind of work that has to be done if we ever want to see Star Wars style droids and baking is no better or worse than any other task. Also, who wouldn't want to try a potentially delicious robot-made cookie?