Earlier this year, Chinese company JD.com said that it planned on opening 1,000 robot-staffed restaurants across China by the year 2020. Well, now it has just 999 more to go as this past weekend, JD.com opened up the XCafe robot restaurant in Tianjin.
Pandaily reports that the new robo-restaurant is 400 square meters and seats up to 100 customers at a time. A combination of robots and artificial intelligence takes orders, prepares food, plates orders and serves meals. Humans aren’t completely out of the equation (ed. note: yet), as a handful are around to assist the robot cooks and refill ingredients.
As we’ve noted, robot restaurants are so hot right now. In China alone, Alibaba runs the Robot.he restaurant and Panasonic and Haidilao formed a joined venture and opened up the first of up to 5,000 robot hot pot restaurants. Here in the U.S. we have Spyce in Boston and the Creator burger joint down in San Francisco.
Worth noting just because of its potential to be a future clue from Puzzle Master Will Shortz: San Francisco is also home to robot coffee kiosk, Cafe X. Will we ever see an XCafe restaurant next to a Cafe X? (Sidenote to our sensitive readers, do not Google “XCafe.”)
There are a number of factors driving the growth of robot-run restaurants. First, robotics themselves are getting better, to the point where they can handle oddly-shaped and softer materials. Second, there is a shortage of workers for sectors like fast food here in the U.S. as well as in places like Japan, where an aging population is leading to labor shortages. Robots won’t burn themselves on a hot stove or fryer, and, as Haidilao pointed out, automation can make it much easier to scale your operations (not as much training, it’s consistent, more software driven results, etc.).
It’s also worth noting the aggressiveness with which Chinese companies are jumping into the robot restaurant business. Haidilao and JD.com together have 6,000 robot restaurants in the works. Spyce, Creator and Cafe X are going to have to fire up the robot factory to stay competitive.