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It’s not just students heading back to college campuses this fall. Increasingly, tech companies are hooking up with universities to research and develop food-related robots.
South Korean company Woowa Brothers, which operates the popular food delivery app Baedal Minjok, became the latest such company to do so yesterday when it announced that it was partnering with UCLA to research and develop food robots that do things like place orders and prepare meals.
Woowa Brothers follows Nvidia, which opened up a robotic kitchen research lab near the University of Washington in January, led by Dieter Fox, a professor in the UW Paul G. Allen School of Computer Science and Engineering; and Sony, which hooked up with Carnegie-Mellon University last year to work on food robots.
That companies would lean on colleges shouldn’t come as a surprise; they’re filled with eager students and faculty working on cutting-edge technology in laboratory settings. That companies are interested in food isn’t a surprise either — I mean, everyone eats, so there are broad applications (that people will pay for). But equally important is that food provides an interesting challenge because it isn’t one uniform thing. Food comes in odd-shapes and sized objects of varying color and textures.
Plus, there are a lot of different ways researchers can apply robotics research to food: In addition to identifying and moving objects, there is preparation like chopping and slicing, the actual cooking and plating of the food, and transporting a meal either inside a restaurant or across town to your door.
Going back to school seems like a good thing for these companies. If they can get robots to successfully work with food, then robots will be better trained and prepared for applications outside the kitchen.
Spoon Market Map: Booze Tech
Speaking of robots, want to know who’s making robot-bartenders? Then you should check out our new Booze Tech Market Map 2019. My colleague, Jenn Marston put the map together, writing:
For The Spoon’s Booze Tech in 2019 market map, we divvied the market up into several categories where technology is making the biggest impact on the way people get, create, and consume beer, wine, and spirits. That’s everything from apps that update you on the best craft beers available to at-home bartending devices that let you release your inner mixologist to the many ways in which companies are making it possible to get the booze delivered right to your doorstep.
Sadly, none of the companies listed have made robots that flip the shakers around à la Tom Cruise (a different kind of robot) in Cocktail.
Walmart announced last week that it was conducting a self-driving delivery test with Gatik AI. There are plenty of companies testing out autonomous delivery vehicles, but the hook with this announcement was that Walmart is only delivering goods between two of its stores — not to a shopper’s door.
This business-to-business delivery route is called the “middle mile” and it’s a path increasingly taken by companies looking to streamline their logistics. Uber is using the middle mile for its nascent drone delivery program: in San Diego the company will fly hamburgers from restaurants to designated drop off areas where an Uber Eats driver will complete the delivery. Amazon is working on a system where it makes deliveries to a neighborhood hub and a robot, which lives in your house, goes out to fetch your order. And Zume Pizza transports pre-made pizzas in mobile kitchens that park in different neighborhoods and act as a hub for delivery drivers.
In addition to augmenting logistical operations for companies, the middle mile has benefits for consumers as well, especially when it comes to groceries. Many shoppers aren’t sold yet on self-driving delivery vehicles for groceries because that only gets their goods to the curb. With no delivery driver, shoppers still need to go out to the sidewalk and lug the groceries in themselves. Additionally, curbside pickup at the store is proving popular as it can fit into a consumer’s existing schedule.
All this is to say that this isn’t the last time we’ll be talking about the middle mile.