Back in 2017, I was in Tokyo for the first SKS Japan and thought I’d look around to see if I could find any robot-powered restaurants. I didn’t have much luck. In fact, about the only one that showed up during my search was a tourist attraction in Shinjuku, which wasn’t so much a robot restaurant as it was a dinner theater show that could only be described as Care Bears meets Mad Max Fury Road
Five years later, things have sure changed. Not only have automated mini-restaurants like Yo-Kai popped up around town, but there’s also a robot pasta restaurant slinging plates of noodles right across from Tokyo Station. That new restaurant, called E Vino Spaghetti, pumps out plates of pasta at a rate of over one per minute with its 3-axis robot.
Called P-Robo, the robot was designed by a Tokyo-based startup called TechMagic. The company spent three and a half years developing the robot, says company CEO and founder Yuji Shiraki.
The restaurant is owned by the Pronto Corporation, a subsidiary of Suntory. Pronto has over 300 restaurants around Japan, and TechMagic is working to deploy robots at 50 or so over the next three years. And that’s just one project; according to Shiraki, the company has deals to build robots for several large corporations, ranging from a large and well-known Korean company to Cup Noodle giant Nissin.
As for the P-Robo, I was impressed with how quickly it worked in a fairly small space. The robot preps the sauces and toppings, heats the noodles (which are pre-cooked and frozen, standard for noodle and pasta restaurants), combines it all in a spinner and then delivers the meal down along a conveyor belt to the plating station. From there, the meal is put on a plate, and a human worker does final prep for delivery to the customer. Afterward, the robot washes and cleans the prep bowls.
The idea to build a food robot first came to Shiraki when he visited his grandmother. Over 90 years old, Shiraki saw she could not cook for herself and so started to think about how a home cooking robot might help her. However, he soon realized that Japanese kitchens were too small to build the type of robot he envisioned, and he started thinking about building robots for restaurants. It wasn’t long before he quit his job as a management consultant and founded TechMagic.
That was five years ago. Since then, the company has raised $23 million in funding (including a $15 million Series B last September), received a patent for its pasta-making robot, and plans to create its own chain of robot-powered franchise restaurants.
At the rate Shiraki and his team are going, Tokyo might just be filled with restaurant robots when I come back for SKS Japan 2023. And who knows, someday soon, I may even see a TechMagic robot closer to home.