Robots in the workforce are nothing new. For decades they’ve slowly grown to dominate parts of the world of manufacturing, taking a particularly prominent role in the auto industry. However, these strictly behind-the-scenes positions may not be the norm for long. The foodservice and restaurant industry has recently begun integrating robotics into roles from the kitchen to the cash register, introducing the tech to consumers in a more direct way.
Robot restaurants are a growing phenomenon around the United States. While the name might conjure images of a science fiction-esque eatery staffed by humanlike robots, the reality is much more subdued. Eatsa, a restaurant company based in San Francisco, recently announced its plans to implement robotic technology at its Wow Bao chain locations. The new tech will enable customers to order food from their tablet or a kiosk located on site, and from there collect the complete meal from a grid-like wall of cubbies, with the customer’s name being displayed on an LED panel. The panel also alerts the customer to when their food has begun cooking. Eatsa’s approach is unique in that it entirely removes any human interaction from ordering. While this may be strange for some customers, it’s clearly an efficient move for eateries that focus on fast takeaway service. The first Wow Bao containing the interesting new system is scheduled to open on December 1st.
Meanwhile, other restaurants have robots taking a more active role. Two restaurants also based in San Francisco, Zume and Cafe X, have both integrated robots into the kitchen. Cafe X uses a robot to brew its signature lattes, while patrons of Zume can enjoy pizzas cooked by robots. This allows human workers to focus on more essential or complex tasks.
As technology improves, robots equipped to prepare other meals will follow. For example, Miso Robotics, a tech startup based in California, is developing a robot designed to cook hamburgers. Nicknamed “Flippy,” the robot will be put to use in CaliBurger by 2018. The robot uses an array of sensors to determine how thoroughly cooked the ground beef is, meaning customers can customize their orders. The artificial intelligence software that makes use of Flippy’s sensors is surprisingly robust and Miso Robotics believes it could, with time, be trained to handle other aspects of food prep. Still, the company is marketing the robot as a kitchen assistant, so it will not be displacing chefs and fry cooks from their jobs anytime soon.