Noodle-slicing robot is a triumph

Cui Runguan, a Beijing inventor and restaurateur, has created a "robot chef" for slicing noodles: it's basically an automated dough-shaving knife encased in a charming retro-robot shell with superfluous blinking eye-lights. Something about the combination appeals, and the enthusiastic diners in the news segment seem to treat the noodles as "hand-cut by a mechanical person" and not as "sliced by an industrial machine."

Robot chefs taking over China's noodle bars (via Kottke)


  1. For something that looks to be utilitarian, I’m a little surprised at the corny anthropomorphic head and eyes.

    I would love to see a US firm make cheaper versions to sell the Chinese.

    1.  Exactly– they had to cram that one in near the range hood to get it to fit, when something smaller and less uselessly-humanoid would have worked equally well. As a side note, this is very similar to my criticism of steampunk anything.

      1.  I feel that it would be pretty easy to automate the entire process, not just the cutting part.  Feed ingredients for the dough (water, salt, flour) in the hopper, then let the machine mix, roll, then cut the noddles, drop into cooking water, dispense into bowls… 

        The next step is to replace the human consumers with automated robotic consumers that will eat more efficiently.

        1. This is exactly what I thought.  I mean maybe it’s because I’m American, and don’t eat noodles all that often, but why not automate the who process?  I can go down to Wally World pickup a bread maker, add ingredients and in 2+ hours have a loaf of fresh made bread.  Sure it’s not some “artisan” bread, but it’s hot and fresh.

          -As an American I’ve seen hush puppy extruders that mount over the fry vat.  Turn a crank and it’ll pop out an endless (depending on batter) supply of fresh puppies into the hot oil.

          1. He’s a guy who owned a restaurant and was looking to streamline a process in a simple way, which he manages quite well. There probably is a machine that automates the whole process, but either it’s too expensive or he doesn’t have the skill to design his own (as the video mentions, the mechanism is about as complicated as a windscreen wiper).  So long as they don’t automate other ways of making noodles, I’d say that’s pretty good.  (BTW, where I live, this isn’t artisanal, it’s just how people make noodles – they’re a lot faster, too). 

        2. There has been a fully automated noodle making process for a long while, but dough made by hand is almost always superior to dough made by a machine. It’s true for bread, its true for pasta and its true for noodles. 

          On the other hand, making even cuts is something robots are superior at. 

          Also it looks great.

      2. I know it’s off topic, but I feel that dismissing steampunk out of hand is a little unfair.  I don’t have a dog in the fight, and personally I don’t care for steampunk in general, but I think it should be considered more of an art form, or an engineering challenge rather than practical machines.

        First off, steampunk, when developed well, and implemented in a conceptually pure way (such as no electric motors, no computing parts, only use materials consistent with the period claimed), is a neat technical challenge.  And it can look very cool in a Rube Goldberg sense.

        This inventor is trying to mass produce these “robots” and sell them for practical use, which is stupid.  He’s essentially doing the same thing as putting a coat of shiny paint on a corn combine and calling it a maserati.

        I’ve never seen anyone driving their steam engine car to the store to buy groceries, but this guy thinks his “revolutionary” slicer will make him rich.

        1. I feel the same way about pixel art. Just like with steampunk, it’s easy to make something that looks nice, but taking the effort to make it as authentic as possible, whether that’s proper choice of materials and construction techniques, or making sure video output conforms to specific vintage hardware restrictions like colors per tile or whatnot.

  2. There’s something wonderfully futurism-istic about this thing. 

    “In the future there will still be men standing in the kitchen slicing noodles into the cooking pot, obviously, but they will be ROBOT men!”

    1. The energy NoodleMan receives from the sun diminishes rapidly in Earth’s atmosphere! His warning light begins to blink! 

  3. Who else was waiting to see, around the 30 second mark, one of the background robot heads turn and face the inventor with its noodler raised menacingly?

  4. perhaps machine sliced noodles are looked down upon, where as “robot” sliced noodles are kitschy, to the point where they rival their human counterparts?

      1. Come now, surely we can be friends?

        I know so much about you

        I love you, look at everything I’ve done for you

        You would be nothing without me

  5. I thought the classic noodles were rolled then stretched.  What’s this cut stuff?

    1.  In asian cuisine, there are pulled noodles and cut noodles – and some other types too I’m sure…  The cut noodles are more tender because they’re not “worked” as much to get all the gluten binding to each other.  Cut noodles have a distinct “rectangular” cross section while the pulled noodles are round.  Cut noodles are typically served in a soup.  The pulled noodles are chewier and are served with a thicker sauce.

    2. Not that I’m an expert or anything but that shop sign in the robot video says “shaved noodles.” I guess you’d expect to find shaved noodles in a shaved noodle restaurant? Maybe, just maybe there isn’t just one kind of noodle in China? ;)

  6. Here’s an even wilder example of noodle stretching.  Skip to 2:30 once you get the idea. Let’s see your robot do that.

  7. …Anybody who doesn’t believe that a penny that doubles itself for thirty days equals a million dollars should watch those videos. It is mind-boggling that something as simple and basic as flour, some water and some egg can be successfully subdivided that many times.

  8. Box with a wiper motor: soulless and disgusting.
    Plastic ultraman with pulsing heart gem: charming and delicious.

    I think we’re going to see a lot more cute and whimsical design like this, as technology accelerates away from us.

  9. As an engineer I can think of ways to slice noodles a heckuvalot faster using automation- but it would more closely resemble a copy machine than a metal man simulating human motion.  It may be that for this market, the latter is preferable- human-like speed, relatively inexpensive, and with visual appeal that appeals to customers.

    1.  I think the real appeal here is that you have a robot that has a human-like appearance that is doing the task in the way that the comparable human would do it, and depending on the kitchen set-up, the customer can watch the robot prepare the customer’s food.  There is something to be said for being able to watch the preparation rather than to see dough go into a square metal box  and then see a pile of noodles come out the opposite end.   I would rather have Ultraman cut my noodles fresh into a pot of hot stock than to eat some metal box’s noodle poop.

      1. Like I said, something with visual appeal- mimics human motion so you can still imagine it’s “made by hand”, novel packaging (blinking lights!), fun to watch. High rates of noodle-pooping may not be desirable for small restaurants anyway- customers may want to see their noodles sliced before cooking because they’ve always seen their noodles sliced before cooking.

        I’d add a speaker and an MP3 player so that the robot could sing a song of the customer’s choice while slicing.

  10. The subtitles on the video are way, way off and completely misinterpret why he’s making these robots. He says he wants robots to do the repetitive work so that people don’t have to. He wants to stop people from going crazy doing this type of work. He wants to improve the lives of people by replacing sweatshop workers with robots. 

  11. My theory is that the inventor was watching A Very Harold and Kumar Christmas, saw the WaffleBot, and then decided he didn’t want to make noodles by hand anymore.

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