BreadBot is an insanely over-engineered gadget just for baking loaves of bread

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A machine baked bread for me today, and it was delicious. BreadBot attempts to automate the manufacture of bread in order to bring fresh breads to massive grocery stores, such as Walmart and Kroger. The team behind this, Wilkinson Baking Company, has worked on developing a prototype for 10 years, and now, finally, is debuting the device at SXSW in Austin, Texas this week.
The bot mixes, kneads, throws and bakes loaves of bread. A bread takes about 90 minutes from start to finish and the machine produces fresh bread all day long with the help of a lot of sensors. BreadBot can create most of the breads, except sticky breads, such as cinnamon rolls and raisin breads. The company is still working on discovering the sourdough. But let me tell you about these sensors and the incredible amount of technology that was used to make an automatic bread loaf machine.
We will start from the top, although I will say that you can also see the whole process on the company's website. The machine has a built-in hopper that contains dry ingredients, such as flour and yeast, for up to 100 loaves. (The prototype that I saw only had enough capacity for 50 loaves.) Every six minutes, enough dry ingredients are dropped for a loaf of the hopper and mixed with water. An ultrasonic measurement system determines when the water has reached the proper amount. Then, an automatic mixer kneads the dough, which can be seen below. All this is driven by a PC built into the base of the machine.

Photo of Ashley Carman / The Verge

This kneaded mass then falls on a conveyor belt, where a laser detects its presence and measures the time it takes the mass to compress. A harder mass will require more time to complete this deployment process. The machine remembers this moment and adjusts the amount of water it adds to the following loaves to optimize them and accelerate the deployment.

Photo of Ashley Carman / The Verge

The dough then falls on a baking sheet and makes its way into a test oven that is set for high humidity and a relatively warm temperature. The mass takes approximately 45 minutes to get up. Then it goes up to the cooking oven, which is hot with little humidity. The cooking process takes 40 minutes.
As the bread comes out of the oven, a laser will determine the bread height and make additional adjustments to the recipe to ensure that the following loaves reach their height goals. A photograph is also taken to match the color to make sure the bread is the exact brown color it should be. This, again, will be used to make adjustments. An arm of the vending machine then drops the bread on a user-oriented screen, so customers can choose which bread they want to buy. The arm will also bring you the bread.

Photo of Ashley Carman / The Verge

A tablet mounted on the front shows where the bread is, so customers can choose the exact bread they want. They will also see information about the bread, such as the age and how it was baked. The tablet will also use facial recognition software to estimate a customer's age and provide stores with information about who uses the machine. This could also be used to offer people more personalized coupons, although they tell me that the data is only stored together and that the real photos are not saved. What I like most about the machine is its internal ventilation that emits the smell of fresh bread, so that buyers know what they are missing.
I tried a multigrain slice today, and it was quite tasty. It's hot here in Austin, so the bread was a little wet and sticky. The company told me that the prototype did not take into account all the automatic measurements because it was not yet configured to do so, so they had to make adjustments for themselves. They adjusted the water levels when I was leaving.
The idea is to lease these machines to large stores and, finally, let the customers pre-order specific bread recipes, although that will be much later because the machine can only handle one recipe at a time. The company also wants to put all these machines online so they can talk to each other and learn from their recipe experiences. A machine in Colorado will make a machine in Miami know how to bake bread in specific situations of temperature and humidity and vice versa.
I can not believe how much technology is needed to bake a loaf of bread, but I think it makes sense. Humans will not control the device at all, so it must be completely self-sufficient. I totally agree with the purchase of machine baked bread, especially since I do not have a bakery near my apartment and because I will definitely never bake mine.

Photo of Ashley Carman / The Verge

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