While most folks can peel a banana without giving it a second thought, incorporating the same capability into a robot is a greater challenge than you might imagine.
That’s because peeling a banana is in fact a highly delicate process. With so much variation among bananas according to shape, size, ripeness, and overall condition, your brain is making a series of lightning-quick decisions every time you go to peel one.
After much experimentation, a team at the University of Tokyo has managed to build a machine that does a darn good job at peeling this particular fruit, though it does take about three minutes to complete the process.
You can watch it in action in the video below.
As you can see, the contraption features two arms with grippers — the hands — at the end of each one. As one hand lifts the banana, the other moves in to carefully grab the top end of the fruit before peeling the first section of skin.
The second section is a little more tricky, as the hand has less skin to grab, but after a few seconds, the robot achieves its goal without any issues. The third section of skin, however, seems more problematic as the hand that’s holding the banana is in the way. At this point, a human would use their fingers to quickly turn the banana in the hand before continuing the peeling process. But unable to readjust the position of the banana, the robotic hand only partially completes the third and final peel in the process.
In fact, widely reported data suggests that currently the robot only succeeds in perfectly peeling a banana 57% of the time, suggesting there’s still plenty of work to be done to hone its skills.
The Tokyo team said it trained its robot using a “deep imitation learning” process that utilized data from numerous human demonstrations of the banana peeling process.
The team now aims to refine the robot’s skills to enhance its speed and reliability in the hope that it can be applied to other delicate tasks beyond just peeling bananas. It could then be used in industries experiencing labor shortage issues, including the restaurant trade, which is already experimenting with robot-powered food preparation.