Last week, the robotics division of Japanese tech and energy conglomerate Softbank showed off a future in which food service robots work hand in hand to deliver a meal to the customer.
The demo featured a Yo-Kai ramen vending machine, a Servi server robot from Bear Robotics, and Softbank’s own Pepper humanoid robot acting as a host and entertainer. The announcement and demo were part of a newly focused effort by Softbank Robotics to position itself as a robotics integrator.
The demo took place in the Shibuya district of Tokyo, at Softbank’s robot restaurant proof of concept store, Pepper House. As seen in the video below, the process flow for a food order starts with the consumer ordering on an app. From there, Yo-Kai starts preparing the ramen, and a cartoon version of Pepper appears on the screen preparing the ramen. Once the ramen is ready, Pepper sends a notification to Servi to approach the Yo-Kai. From there, a human removes the ramen from the Yo-Kai and places it on Servi’s tray, and Servi brings the hot ramen to the customer’s table.
According to the Japanese publication Robotstart, Softbank envisions the installation of a robot hand on the Servi in the future to eliminate the need for a human server.
The demo is an interesting illustration of a fully automated robotic future. Most implementations of food robotics today involve single robots that automate only a portion of the food service process, whether prep, cooking or serving food itself. We haven’t seen many examples of the interconnection between the various parts of the process, mainly because startups building these machines tend to focus on the part of the process. Softbank hopes to change that by providing integration services to combine all the pieces into one integrated service offering.
If other more mature industries are any indication, the arrival of integration services to the food robotics business is a relatively natural evolution of a currently nascent industry. Other tech sectors like enterprise IT, telecom, and retail tech all have evolved integration consulting industries, and it’s not hard to imagine some of the more prominent players in adjacent spaces moving to become food robotics integrators like Softbank. The ability to tie together disparate robotic systems from different companies will become relatively commonplace and a necessary step to push the food robotics space beyond the small niche it resides in today and will be instrumental in building the fully automated restaurant concepts of tomorrow.
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