April 9, 2012 at 3:48 PM ET
A great fast-food sushi business comes down to three things: high-quality ingredients, the skill to package them so they are easy to manipulate with fat fingers or clumsy chopsticks, and the efficiency of speed.
Finding the fresh – and right combination of - ingredients may long remain a skill for humans to master, but the rest has now been mastered by machines.
The Suzumo sushi robots, as the machines in the video below are described, are essentially mechanical sushi sous chefs that make rolls quickly and spit out tightly packed, finely formed clumps of rice exceptionally fast.
One of the roll making robots, for example, can produce 300 medium sized rolls an hour with the assistance of a human laying down select ingredients such as tuna, avocado, and peppers on a prepared bed of rice and seaweed.
Another machine can produce 3,600 oblong clumps of rice per hour. A human slaps on a slab of fish to complete the piece of nigiri.
These aren’t the first robotic sushi sous chefs – Sujzumo claims its first sushibot came out in 1981 – but the latest evolution on display at World Food and Beverage Great Expo 2012 in Tokyo represent gains in speed and efficiency could transform the fast-food sushi market. Wired notes:
Why hire an experienced sushi chef when you can hire a high school student for minimum wage to place a predetermined amount of fish and veggies on a bed of rice and press a button? Most machines cost at least a few thousand dollars, but over time, it might be cheaper to opt for a mechanical sushi maker.
While the idea of machines and robots preparing our food may sound unappealing to foodies who would never set foot in a fast-food restaurant, even one that serves sushi, such machines seem destined to become as common in the kitchen as a fridge and stove.
In addition to the mechanical sushi sous chefs, we’ve seen robots that do everything from pop popcorn and make sandwiches to bake cookies. We even have 3-D printed food and we are close to eating lab-grown hamburger.
For now, the sushibots can’t do all the work themselves – the selecting and placing of the ingredients – but soon enough they will. Then, we can truly have a fully robotic, fast-food sushi restaurant.
For an idea of how that futuristic restaurant will look, check out the Sushi Boat Challenge this May at the 2012 IEEE International Conference on Robotics and Automation where robots will clear and set tables and serve plates of sushi.
John Roach is a contributing writer for msnbc.com. To learn more about him, check out his website and follow him on Twitter. For more of our Future of Technology series, watch the featured video below.