$2.9 Million Pizza-Making Robot Is Still Struggling to Make a Pizza

Will a pizza taste as good if made by a soulless android? Time to find out!

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Aug 14 2017, 3:40pm

Screengrab via YouTube

As much of the world holds its collective breath as President Trump and Kim Jong-un continue their ongoing battle of Twitter threats that could potentially escalate into global annihilation, a group of Italian scientists are quietly constructing a device that could make the world a better place. No, it's not some next-gen military artillery or even delicate medical device: it's a €2.5 million ($2.9 million) robot that might eventually learn how to make a halfway decent pizza.

For the past four years, Professor Bruno Siciliano has led a robotics research group at the University of Naples Federico II. He and his team of engineers have tried to teach their ridiculously expensive robot how to toss, knead, and top pizza dough like a (human) pro. The money for the robot was provided by a grant from the European Research Council, a payout that has been mocked as a "waste of dough" by The Daily Telegraph.

RoDyMan, which is short for Robotic Dynamic Manipulation, has sensors in its head that allow it to see its workspace and it has an impressive level of coordination, but it's still struggling to perfect one crucial part of pizza-making: So far, RoDyMan hasn't been able to toss the dough without accidentally tearing it to shreds.

Although it might eventually become a passable pizza chef—a pizzaiolo, if you will—that's not the only proposed application for its skills. "With two agile arms and multi-finger hands, RoDyMan will be able to manipulate flexible and deformable objects, like the food we eat, the clothes we wear and it can be used in the medical field for operating on soft tissues, including muscles and skin," Siciliano told Research Italy shortly after he began working on the project.

Siciliano has been training RoDyMan with the help of Enzo Coccia, a master pizzaiolo who wore a motion-capture suit as he made pizzas in front of his artificial apprentice. The robot could "watch" Coccia work and then begin to imitate his movements. "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 thumb, the bimanuality and I have to be able to instill the organizational strategy in bimanual tasks as well," Coccia wrote on his website.

A Neapolitan pizza. Photo via Flickr user Nathan Hughes Hamilton

RoDyMan continues to work on its technique, in the hopes that it will have a flawless dough-tossing technique in time for its debut at the Naples Pizza Festival in May 2018. One person who won't be lining up to try the first slice? Bruno Siciliano. "I would never eat a pizza made by a robot," he told Scientific American. "It would not have the taste a real pizzaiolo, with his soul, would put in it."