You know, the automat-like bowl food restaurant that was re-spun as a fast-growing (but more boring) restaurant marketing tech company called Brightloom?
I do, mainly because I loved the place. After I visited one in New York City, I wrote that the restaurant could be the future of fast-casual dining.
As it turns out, some – including maybe Eatsa’s investors – didn’t agree with me. I say that because starting in 2019, they phased out the cubbies, changed their name, took money from Starbucks, and, from the looks of it, dropped big plans for automating the back of house with meal assembly robots.
I say that because Eatsa (now Brightloom) holding company Keenwawa, Inc. was issued a patent last month for a meal-making robot. The patent, a continuation patent for one first issued to the company in 2019, shows a system that assembles meals by dispensing different ingredients stored in canisters into bowls and then shuttles the assembled meals off to the cubbies in the front of house.
From the patent:
The automatic food preparation and serving apparatus may also comprise the food dispensing mechanism configured to dispense the ingredient from the plurality of food canisters into the bowl or food receptacle, under program control of the one or more processors.
The patent goes into excruciating detail about the system, complete with dozens of images outlining the canisters, the dispensing system, the conveyor belt, the bowls, and even the touchscreen user interface (which looks a lot like those deployed in the actual Eatsa restaurants for consumers to choose their bowls).
The list of inventors on the 60-page plus patent includes the former automation and engineering team for Eatsa, as well as Dave Friedberg, the one-time Climate Corp founder who incubated the company as part of what would eventually become The Production Board holding company.
I have to wonder if Eatsa-now-Brightloom’s owners are looking to license or sell the technology or even revive their ‘eatsa-inside’ strategy. After all, the recent news that Sweetgreen had acquired Spyce to help do exactly what Eatsa did – make food bowls – shows that some restaurants see a future in automated meal assembly.
Time will tell. For now, however, you can take a look back at the Eatsa ordering and cubby system below.
Food Tech Patent News Roundup
The First Patent Awarded to an AI System is in Food
While I thought that artificial intelligence systems will do most everything at some point, I assumed an AI being awarded a patent was one we could sleep on for a few years more.
I was wrong. In the July edition of the Patent Journal, an AI system named DABUS was awarded a patent for an innovation called “food container based on fractal geometry” for a system with interlocking food containers.
This Quartz Africa article describes DABUS’s creator:
DABUS (which stands for “device for the autonomous bootstrapping of unified sentience”) is an AI system created by Stephen Thaler, a pioneer in the field of AI and programming. The system simulates human brainstorming and creates new inventions. DABUS is a particular type of AI, often referred to as “creativity machines” because they are capable of independent and complex functioning. This differs from everyday AI like Siri, the “voice” of Apple’s iPhones.
DABUS’s inventor Thaler submitted the patent application listing DABUS as the inventor since the AI conceived and created the food storage system entirely. He submitted it to patent offices worldwide, including the US, which rejected him because, among other reasons, the US patent office only awards patents (for the time being) to human inventors. However, the South Africa patent office apparently had no such restrictions when it surprised many with an award of a patent.
I’m looking forward to when we see AI start innovating on novel food. We’ve seen what an impact AI had in vaccine development, so it’s not too much of a stretch to see how it could start making a difference on the bioengineering front for foods.
A Patent Awarded for Many Container Within Container Scenarios For Food Storage, Cooking, and More
A fairly wide-ranging patent titled “Multi-function compact appliance and methods for a food or item in a container with a container storage technology” (US011104502) has been awarded to an Edward Espinosa from Spain for a system that enables a variety of container within container use-cases.
One example is a food container within a larger food storage appliance (i.e., a fridge) sending information on status such as freshness, etc. Another is the refrigerator with a microwave oven in one of the compartments.
The patent describes various technologies such as NFC, Bluetooth, voice control, machine vision via an internal camera, and more to enable the container systems to communicate with the appliance. In addition, the system describes the use of smart tags that communicate freshness data from within storage drawers.
I’ve long called for innovations in the core design of the fridge since they’ve largely been the same for the past 100 years, and it looks like Espinosa has definitely given the refrigerator a rethink.
Whirlpool’s Solid State Cooking Patent
It’s been a loosely held secret in the appliance industry that Whirlpool has been tinkering around in the solid-state cooking area for a while. This patent describing a system with multi-regional cooking via RF signals shows they are also trying to accumulate IP in the market. At this time, only Miele has commercialized a consumer solid-state cooking appliance, but hopefully, soon, we’ll see a next-generation microwave from a mass-market brand like Whirlpool.