Snacking Robots: Applying Artificial Intelligence to Oreos

Trial and Error: HERB the Robotic Butler demonstrates how NOT to separate Oreo cookies from the Oreo creme at Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh.

When I was a kid, my sister would bite off all of the Oreo creme filling and put the two chocolate sandwich cookies back in the package for the next unsuspecting family member.

Toying around with the Oreo filling is an American family tradition, as evidenced by the ongoing creme etchings on the Oreo Facebook page, including an Oreo Daylight Savings Clock, an Oreo NASCAR Race Flag, and an Oreo Pirate Eyepatch.

As part of their new “Cookie or Cream?” campaign, Oreo has contracted some top scientists to solve a daunting century-old problem:

“Over the last hundred years, almost literally billions of productive man-hours have been lost to people splitting apart OREO cookies by hand and eating the part they prefer. In an attempt to make the world a better and more efficient place, OREO has contracted the world’s best roboticists, artists and tinkerers to create machines that will do the work for us. Take a look at the future of eating OREO cookies.”

Robotics experts at Carnegie Mellon University were up to the challenge. Through trial and error, their HERB (Home Exploring Robotic Butler) robot learned to twist and separate the cookie without breaking it, scrape off the excess filling and polish off any residue so the cookie is completely clean and ready for consumption by those who prefer their Oreos naked.

The engineering challenge was immense. Think about it: Even just a teeny bit more pressure in those robotic hands and the cookie gets pulverized. Watch for yourself how HERB handles the challenge:

The first part of the robot’s challenge involves computer vision and artificial intelligence. The robot must “see” the object and positively identify it as a cookie. It must coordinate its computer vision with the movement of its robotic arm and robotic hand.

Pongr’s ongoing computer vision research, which just was dramatically enhanced with the acquisition of Israeli startup Sightec (see AdWeek), focuses on identifying brand logos, products and CPG packaging — but does not involve any cookie separation algorithms.

We do however, have a voracious appetite for Oreo filling — with or without the help of human or robot butlers!

(Check out the streaming Oreo Fan Photo Gallery on Pongr.)

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