When we talk about robots in restaurants, we often talk about the human jobs that will be lost to this impending automation. But a cafe that opened in Tokyo this week is actually using robots to create jobs for people with physical disabilities.
The Japan Times reports that the Dawn Avatar cafe in Minato Ward, Tokyo will feature five robots that are roughly 3.9 feet tall that will take orders and serve food. The robots transmit audio and video over the internet so they can be controlled by people with conditions such as amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) remotely from their homes. Ten remote workers with ALS will get ¥1,000 (~$8.79) an hour in wages for controlling the robots.
The cafe was formed as a joint project between Ory Lab, which develops the robots, Nippon Foundation and ANA Holdings. This iteration of the cafe is just a trial run and will only be open until Dec. 7. The three companies hope to launch a permanent version of the cafe in time for the 2020 Tokyo Olympics and Paralympics.
A shrinking population in japan is creating a labor shortage and robots are being built to do manual, repetitive work like making Takoyaki, a street food made from batter balls and minced octopus, and crêpes (even tri-colored ones!).
As Mike Wolf reported from our last Smart Kitchen Summit: Japan, a lot of innovation in that country comes from R&D departments in larger, established companies. For instance, Sony recently showed off its vision of the home robot chef and has teamed up with Carnegie Mellon University to develop food robots. And Softbank recently hooked up with Toyota to form MONET, a venture that will build autonomous vehicles to do things like deliver robot-made meals.
What I appreciate about Japan’s robot ambitions is how they are tying these programs into real world needs: aging at home, added mobility and in the case of this new cafe, providing new job opportunities for people who need them.