Often, when we talk about robots in the food industry, there is a measure of doom and gloom associated with it. I’m guilty of this as well, trying to balance excitement around innovation with the gravitas of millions of human jobs being wiped out.
But it’s also important to remember that robots are really frickin’ cool, and as a CNBC story points out, robots are needed in a country like Japan, which is facing a labor shortages due to a shrinking population.
Tetsuya Sawanobobori started up a restaurant upon completion of grad school. Long story short: long hours made it exhausting and he quit after a year. For sure, owning a restaurant is challenging, but Sawanobori talked to CNBC about the food service industry in Japan more generally, saying “Right now, especially in the food service industry, they have a serious lack of labor because people tend to avoid these kinds of jobs, doing daily, repetitive tasks.”
After exiting the restaurant business, Sawanobori got into robotics and is now the president of Connected Robotics. The company will start selling a robot this summer that can prepare Takoyaki, a Japanese street food consisting of batter balls and minced octopus. Sawanobori said that his robot will take the pressure off of cooking staff who won’t have to stand in front of a hot grill all day.
This isn’t the first time we’ve heard this story coming out of Japan. At our own Smart Kitchen Summit startup showcase last year, Hirofumi Mori told our audience that his time performing repetitive, manual tasks at a crêpe shop inspired him to invent his own crêpe making robot.
Here in the U.S., the long hours of restaurant work are spurring our own robot adoption. Bear Robotics created “Penny,” a robot that looks like a bowling pin and shuttles food and dirty dishes around the restaurant. Bear CEO John Ha told us that he built Penny because “[Servers] are tired, they get a low salary, usually no health insurance, but they’re working really hard.”
Sometimes, however, it seems like our new restaurant robots are working too hard. The most famous example of this is Miso Robotics’ Flippy, the burger flipping robot. Flippy was temporarily “retired” after its first official day on the job, but evidently that’s because it was too fast and the human co-workers couldn’t keep up.
Perhaps the possible Little Caeser’s pizza making robot will fare better.
With the restaurant robot genie out of the bottle, now it’s incumbent upon us a society to keep up, and avoid the doom and gloom.