For thousands of years, people have been baking bread by largely following the same procedure: dough is kneaded into a loaf and then placed in a hot oven until it’s done. And while this may sound simple enough, baking a perfect loaf of bread actually requires a great deal of skill and years of experience. That is unless you have a BreadBot, a new machine that automates nearly every aspect of the baking process.
Recently unveiled at the annual Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in Las Vegas, BreadBot can produce 235 loaves a day (or about 10 per hour). Once a human loads dry mix into a hopper, the machine can knead, bake, and cool the bread all on its own. The finished product is then moved by a robotic arm into a vending machine where customers can make purchases through a touchscreen. What’s more, BreadBot has a collection of more than 70 sensors that scan the loaves 100 times per second and make adjustments to the baking process instantly. “What we have the ability to do is to know that an individual loaf that came off at 7:39 a.m. had these parameters and inputs and this many grams of water and yeast, and rose to this particular level and had this particular level of brown coloring,” said Randall Wilkinson, CEO of the company that has spent the past decade developing BreadBot.
While the machine isn’t set up in any stores just yet, Wilkinson says he’s in talks with three major grocery chains to test the robot baker. Instead of selling BreadBots outright, he plans to lease them to “partner stores” in order to ensure consistent quality. If the machine turns into a success, Wilkinson has plans for an upgraded model that would allow customers to order loaves with their own choice of ingredients. “Using an app, you’d say, ‘I want 40 percent more sunflower, half the salt, and I want it at 3 p.m. on Tuesday,’ ” said Wilkinson. “Then you’d show up and present a QR code to the machine and pick up your bread.”
- Do you think consumers can be convinced to buy machine-made bread from vending machines? Why or why not?
- What are the advantages and disadvantages of automating a complicated process like bread-making?
Source: Peter Holley, “A New Fleet of Autonomous Robots Is Now Making One of the World’s Oldest Foods,” The Washington Post, January 7, 2019.