In the future, nobody will have to cook for themselves: the robots will take care of it all for us. And fast! At least if folks like [Avidan Ross] have their way. He gave a talk on his 45-second pizza robot, and other DIY food automations, at the 2016 Hackaday SuperConference, and you’re invited to pretend that you were there by watching this video.
Why would you want to build machines to build food? It’s a serious challenge, and there’s always going to be room to improve and new frontiers to cross. There’s immediate feedback: [Avidan] gets to taste and tweak in a quick feedback cycle. And finally, everybody eats, so it’s not hard to find “test subjects” for his work.
Super Hot, Super Fast Pizza
OK, so now you’re onboard with why you’d want to work on food, why would you want to cook your pizza so fast? The answer is the crust. When the oven is hot enough to vaporize water and cook the dough firm in nearly the same instant, it leaves big fluffy air pockets that make a phenomenal crust. Neapolitan pizza authorities require a pizza to be cooked in 90 seconds. [Avidan] was sure that hotter and faster would be better, so he aimed for a 45-second pizza.
The talk gets into the specifics of building a rocket stove, and a Pompeii oven on top of that. And while he got an oven that would reach 1000 degrees F, and cook a pizza in 60 seconds, that was only excessively fast and not ridiculously fast. So he added forced air and some smarts. Or rather, after firing it up for the first time, and losing some eyebrows to the ensuing 1500 degree F flamethrower, he throttled it down using an H-bridge and a microcontroller brain.
The oven is actually a hybrid: the floor of the oven is precisely controlled with Kanthal coil and a temperature probe for feedback, while the wood fire heats up the dome and adds smokey flavor. So when the pizzas were coming out a bit soft on the bottom, [Avidan] could crank up the floor temperature to compensate. In the end they got the temperatures so well controlled that they used a three-stage profile over the 45 seconds: super hot for the first ten seconds, medium hot in the middle, and then back to super hot for the last ten seconds to finish it off. Why? Because it tasted the best. It’s not science unless you can isolate the variables, folks.
The second half of [Avidan]’s talk is more approachable for those of us who don’t have space for a 3000-lb, wood-devouring flamethrower in the back yard. It’s all about fun ways to introduce automation into your home kitchen. “Introduce” with a screwdriver, sensors, and a Raspberry Pi, that is.
If you want to get started making your own cooking automation, you want to approach it like an engineer. Knowing your food and the chemistry of your cooking techniques is obvious, but [Avidan]’s approach is to control and automate everything. So when he built a smoker, he controlled not just the temperature inside the smoker, but also the airflow going into the fire chamber, and even the humidity inside. Then he put sensors on everything and closed the loop. That way, he could create whatever temperature profile he wanted, and nail it.
And now, [Avidan] is working on coffee. There’s a scale on the floor of the espresso machine and a stepper motor on the grinder, controlling how finely the coffee is ground. So when he pulls a shot, the coffee machine knows how fast the espresso is coming out. Eventually, [Avidan] is going to close the loop, making the grinder run coarser when the espresso shot takes too long, and vice versa. With the right feedback, this should eventually make the perfect cup. (He doesn’t mention how he’s controlling the pressure with which the operator tamps down the grinds. Inquiring minds want to know!)
In the end, [Avidan]’s talk is really just about the joys of building your own. In his case, it’s his own food-making machines, but that’s just a detail really. He loves food, and we do too, but he could have just as easily have been talking about robot gardening or automated scarf weaving. The point is to pick something that you love and automate it to see if you can make it better. You’ll be more motivated along the way, and you’ll be that much more proud of the outcome. That’s great advice to the budding hardware hacker!