OREO Commissions Scientists for Cookie Experiment
Nabisco’s famous OREO cookies used to come with a warning; Don’t fiddle with the middle. But a new social media campaign is encouraging people to build contraptions, Rube Goldberg machines and even robots to separate the white OREO cream filling from the chocolate cookie.
The company commissioned four groups of tinkerers, artists and scientists to develop an OREO separator that will isolate the cookie from the cream. On the OREO website the cookie maker asks which people prefer, cookie or creme.
A statement from Nabisco says, “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 a misguided effort to reinstate those lost hours of labor, OREO is showcasing a few different gizmos that will indeed separate the creme from the cookie.
OREO Separator #1 — A Man. A Plan. And Possibly a HatchetCreator and physicist David Neevel prefers the cookie side of OREOS. He built a brute force machine to get rid of the OREO creme filling using a Rube Goldgerg machine that showcases a hatchet to cut the cookie apart.
Of the OREO experience he says, “I can’t tell you how much fun I had working in the Mad Dog Garage for a few weeks. I learned a lot and burned a lot of calories staying warm.”
He built his OREO separator in Portland, Oregon where he says besides struggling to build little working robots he had a hard time keeping his hands and the back of his neck warm.
And that cold just heightened his challenge. Because the colder he was while building his separator the colder the cookies were. And the colder the cookie the more the cookie and creme cling together.
He says, “I made a machine that separates the creme from the cookie in an Oreo. Well, first it divides the cookie, then it separates it. The video explains it all.”
He even used a blow torch to melt the cookie and liquify the filling. That didn’t get the results he wanted so he set about constructing multiple-step process that culminates with the cookie being hacked gently (if that’s possible) apart by a hatchet. After cookie separation the OREO still has creme on both halves of the cookie, something Neevel abhors. So little robots move the cookies creme-side-up to a router where after being secured the cream filling is pushed off the cookie, leaving creme-free cookie halves that make the short journey to the hands of the inventor.
As the freshly scraped cookies slide into his hand before quick transport to his mouth he says, “Alright. Two clean, delicious OREOs. Mmmmm…Yum.”
OREO Separator #2 — Cube of ChoicesTwo Minnesota toy scientists are divided over the OREO. Barry Kudrowitz likes the cookie while Bill Fienup is a connoisseur of the OREO creme. The University of Minnesota professors/inventors/tinkerers say they hardly argue about anything, except which part of the OREO is better. They each built components of an OREO separator cube to separate their favorite part from the less desirable side of the cookie.
Kudrowitz says, “Right now, the mechanisms will actually destroy each other if you activate them at the same time.” So with an element of danger, the two OREO auteurs walk through their six-step process to complete OREO separation.
Step one involves loading a column of OREOs into the cylindrical, cookie-sized chamber on top of the cube. The cookies are lowered into position. In Step two a single cookie is pushed from the bottom of the column into a recessed plate where it is secured. In Step three a hydraulic lever pushes just the top cookie into the cookie-preferring subject’s mouth. Step four turns the attention to the creme filling and begins by heating the open-faced OREO to melt the filling. With a quick blast of air, Step five atomizes the liquid creme and sprays into the creme-preferring subject’s mouth. A spring bounces the remaining cookie into the air where Step six concludes with the ejected cookie being caught and eaten by the cookie-loving first subject.
Unlike other separators the OREO separator cube is a cooperative process that preserves each cookie component for quick consumption. No part is discarded. Kudrowitz says, “Our goal is to help people separate the OREO and save their favorite parts.” Fienup adds, “for eating.”
OREO Separator #3 — OREO Cookie WheelA British art collective blurs the line between art and deliciousness with its OREO separator. Mark McKeague is a designer who knew he wanted to free the biscuit from the OREO creme. And so did Yuri Suzuki the co-founder of London-based Dentaku. Together they built the OREO Wheel. Suzuki is one of Disney’s imagineers but he is also a big proponent of cookie not creme when it comes to his OREOs.
McKeague says, “I love the OREO Wheel but it is dangerous and unpredictable.” Looking like a deadly ferris wheel the two designers strap intact OREOs to the outside edge of the wheel as it begins to turn. An exacto knife springs out to remove the top cookie. Then a second blade removes the filling and a cookie knocker pushes the cookie off the wheel to land in a pile with the other cookie parts below.
He says, “This is definitely one of our most useful inventions. I feel like we are really helping people…eat cookies.”
OREO Separator #4 — OREO Meet HERBA robotics team at Carnegie Mellon University jumped into the cookie v. creme battle brewing at OREO. And they brought in HERB to settle the argument. Not surprisingly the Household Exploring Robotic Butler has a refined British accent and is the height of propriety.
He is a noble robot designed to help people with household chores but he also dreams of helping humanity. His current duty is separating OREOs.
He says, “Apparently that is a big deal for humans.”
HERB takes his orders from Sidd Srinivasa at the robotics lab who has been refining the robot for seven years.
Dr. Srinivasa says, “Finally, we’re able to do the kinds of tasks we dreamed about doing with a robot like HERB.”
But HERB prefers the OREO creme while Dr. Srinivasa likes the cookie.
To separate the OREO Dr. Srinivasa says HERB has to be very delicate and precise, two things robots struggle to accomplish at the same time. HERB is outfitted with a head full of sensors and cameras. His arms have more joints than humans do so he can perform a variety of household duties.
It took HERB a long time to learn how to best separate an OREO. He tried smashing it with a frying pan. Then he stabbed it with a sharp knife. He tried hitting it apart with his robot fingers.
Dr. Srinivasa says, “It really challenged a lot of the algorithms that we had to develop for him.”
Project scientist Prasanna Velagapudi explains how the process works.
He says first HERB detects a plate of OREOs and then he picks up one cookie. Using both of his hands, HERB twists and separates the two cookie halves. Then he takes the half with creme and scrapes it over a mandolin, (kitchen utensil not musical instrument) removing most of the creme. HERB calls this step, “Removing the precious creme.” Then he picks up a towel and polishes the cookie, removing any residual creme filling and presents the finished cookie to Dr. Srinivasa to eat.
He says, “HERB is an extremely capable robot and it’s incredibly rewarding to write the theory, build the algorithm and actually put it on a robot and watch it separate the cookie from the creme so gracefully.”
A statement by the robotics institute about the OREO challenge says, “HERB is a testbed for algorithms, software and other technology that will enable robots to perform challenging manipulation tasks in places where people live and work.”
From the videos it’s clear there are two distinct camps — cookie and creme — when it comes to OREOs. And no doubt the push to create OREO separators will allow clever inventors to share their preference with the world.
The Nabisco statement continues, “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.”
While OREO is trying to motivate inventors to build machines to help recoup all those lost hours spent twisting cookies apart the true purpose of the cookie v. creme campaign was to increase YouTube subscribers to the OREO channel and that appears to be an ongoing experiment.