Back in college, Adam Lloyd Cohen had a vision.
It was 1985, and he was in Paris working on a documentary about ancient robots as a project during his senior year in college. After steeping himself in the history of automation during the day and dining on French cuisine at night, he began to think about how we might use robots to make food.
“The combination of good food and making a film on robotics stimulated the idea that, ‘hey wouldn’t it be great if we could somehow democratize access to very high-quality food?'” Cohen told me in a recent interview. “And there seemed to be no way to do that except with automation.”
But it was still the eighties, and robotics were a far cry from the AI-powered machines of today, so when Cohen graduated, he decided to set aside his vision of the future and get a job.
Still, as he navigated what would become a successful career in the 3D printing industry that included founding and selling a company, Cohen never forgot his idea about food automation and, by 2018, he decided it was time to give it a try.
“I started to hear about people working in this area, and I realized, well, the time has come.”
And so he got to work, eventually building a beta prototype of a food-making robot that he and his new company Now Cuisine trialed in late 2020. That trial helped him secure a deal with a popular burrito chain in Texas called Freebirds World Burrito, announced today, to run a three-month pilot with six new automated robotic kiosks called Takeout Stations. The robots will be deployed in different office buildings and multifamily housing units throughout Dallas.
The idea behind putting automated fresh-food-making kiosks in different locations goes back to Cohen’s original vision of making good food accessible through automation. It’s a vision his company now calls (and has trademarked) ‘Distributed Dining’.
From the announcement:
Through its vision of Distributed Dining, Now Cuisine seeks to democratize access to delicious, healthful, affordable food, making it ubiquitous and always nearby: wherever people live, work, and play. Through a connected network of Takeout Stations, Now Cuisine is working to improve nutrition, shrink food deserts, save precious time, and reduce waste, traffic, and emissions.
The new generation robotic kiosks will operate autonomously and assemble up to three dozen bowls per day, each taking about two minutes to assemble. They’ll also make a lot more than burrito bowls.
“There are all sorts of things we could be doing with the next generation,” said Cohen. “Certainly burrito bowls are of great interest, but grain bowls are fantastic. There’s potential for rice bowls, noodle bowls, and pokey bowls.”
But before the pilot program – and the rest of this vision for the future – can take place, Now Cuisine has to raise money to build the robots. To do that, Cohen is looking at venture capital, but he’s also considering crowdfunding.
“I’m intrigued by crowdfunding,” said Cohen. “Especially given the success some other folks have had in this space. But I’m going to start with more conventional approaches.”
Cohen is confident he can raise funds since he’s done it before. “For my last company, I raised about $17 million.”
Once funded, Cohen believes that it will take about ten months until the first Takeout Stations are deployed. The plan is to build the first six or so robots by hand so the engineering team can learn and stabilize the design.
From there, “the idea is to transition it to a contract manufacturer to make a lot of them,” said Cohen.
With Cohen’s long-term plan falling into place, he’s closer than ever to achieving the vision he first had while making a documentary in Paris about the future of robots.
Speaking of the documentary, whatever happened to it?
“I didn’t have enough money to finish it,” said Cohen.
Now a successful entrepreneur and no longer an aspiring documentarian, Cohen hopes for a different outcome as he works to build the future of democratized, automated food production he first envisioned had almost four decades ago in Paris.