Good-bye, Penny. Hello Servi.
Bear Robotics and SoftBank announced their new food service robot, dubbed Servi, at an event in Tokyo today. The new robot is actually a redesigned version of Bear’s Penny, an autonomous server robot that shuttles food and empty dishware between the front and back of house of a restaurant.
SoftBank is actually an investor in Bear Robotics, and led Bear’s $32 million Series A round that closed at the beginning of the year. The two companies have been working closely on Servi, and will focus initially on the Japanese market, where Bear has already lined up Denny’s as a customer.
Servi is coming to market at a time of heightened interest in automation in the restaurant industry. The COVID-19 pandemic has brought increased scrutiny over the amount and types of human-to-human interactions that happen when dining out. Robots like Servi can also work long hours without a break, won’t call in sick and don’t have to worry about awkward exchanges with customers over wearing their masks (e.g., taking a mask off to eat, putting it back on when ordering).
But Bear is not alone in the robot server space. With players like PuduTech and Keenon Robotics, server robots could quickly become a commodity, with restaurants just opting for the lowest cost option.
John Ha, Founder and CEO of Bear Robotics, told me by phone last week that Bear’s robots are different from the competition because of their full autonomous driving (no need for special tags to be placed on ceilings) and easier set up.
Ha was in South Korea at the time because Bear has an office in Seoul and that is where the company will be manufacturing Servi. This scaled up production, Ha said, will be a way Bear can fend off newer startups looking to break into the robot space. “People without mass production won’t be close anytime soon, because mass production is not a joke,” Ha said.
South Korea will also be among the first markets for Bear, with Ha saying that they have received a lot of inbound interest from restaurants there. In South Korea, Bear will go up against Woowa Brothers, which teamed up with LG and the Korea Institute for Robot Industry Advancement (KIRIA) to develop robot waiters as well.
As noted, the pandemic is accelerating the interest and adoption of food robots. So expect to be saying hello to a lot more robots like Servi in your not-too-distant dining future.