Alibaba has opened up a highly automated restaurant in Shanghai, as robots continue to enter eateries around the globe.
The Robot.he restaurant in the Hema supermarket uses a series of apps, QR codes, and robots to provide a futuristic dining experience (hat tip to Axios). The Hema app tells customers where to sit in the restaurant and is used to pay for meals as well as to order more food once seated. Once the food is ready, small pod-like robots scurry out on shiny tracks to deliver it straight to the table.
While there is a ton of technology at play here, Hema still relies on humans for much of the work. From the video (see below), staff on-hand helps with the selection of seafood, and there are human cooks making the meals.
Alibaba’s news site, Alizila, didn’t say exactly when the restaurant opened, or provide much information regarding future plans for Hema, but Alibaba is getting more into robots in other parts of the company, rolling out its autonomous delivery vehicles.
China will certainly be a hotbed for robot restaurant activity. Last month, Alibaba rival JD.com announced it would open up 1,000 completely robot-run restaurants by 2020. And for what it’s worth, Google recently invested $500 million in JD.com, so who knows how Alphabet’s AI endeavors might tie in with JD’s robo-ambitions.
But the Hema opening also shows how robot restaurants are opening around the globe. While they are a novelty right now, they will quickly become the norm. Here in the U.S., Spyce Kitchen’s robot restaurant whips up bowls of food, Creator makes a $6 hamburger and Cafe X just opened up its first sidewalk robot barista-in-a-box. Over in France, EKIM is busy building out its robot pizzaiolo, and in Japan, robots are making street food.
There are a few factors contributing to this rise of the restaurant robot. First, robots can run all day without a break, and in places where labor is tight, robots could be increasingly necessary. Second, robotics and AI are getting more evolved and developing technologies to better handle the different shapes and textures of food. And while this automation will impact the number of jobs available to millions of people, robots can also take over the menial, sometimes dangerous and repetitive jobs, freeing people up for higher-skilled labor.
And hopefully freeing people up to eat at more robot restaurants.