The restaurant salad bar is often a mixed bag – sometimes it’s great, other times the ingredients are sad, with wilted lettuce and less-than-fresh cucumbers side-by-side. And sometimes the salad options at traditionally fast food chains are just downright sad.
That’s where Sally comes in. She’s the robot from Chowbotics Inc., a robotics and AI company that’s creating perfectly portioned salads and positioned as an alternative to the casual dining salad restaurants. Chowbotics, formerly known as Casabots, has raised $6.3 million in funding from notable venture capital sources as Techstars and Foundry, the company behind Fitbit and 3D printers.
Sally takes up minimal space (about the size of a dorm room refrigerator) and uses 21 popular salad ingredients like romaine, kale, seared chicken breast, Parmesan, California walnuts, cherry tomatoes, and Kalamata olives that will create thousands of salad combinations in a mere 60 seconds.
In many ways, Sally is like a 3D printer for salads, spewing out prepared ingredients to create a ready to eat dish. In case you’re worried about Sally just being another automation nail in the food service coffin, you’ll be glad to know that Sally actually requires human interaction to do her job. Workers as the restaurant, airport or hotel will have to chop and wash the vegetables before putting them into the machine – at least for now.
“Sally is the next generation of salad restaurant,” said Deepak Sekar, founder of Chowbotics. “For one thing, a robot can make salad faster than a human can. Also, you will know precisely how many calories your salad is delivering; there won’t be the problem of consuming one piled high with garnishes that turn out to be more fattening than a burger.”
Sally is making her debut in a fast-casual restaurant in Silicon Valley and at a corporate cafeteria in Texas, with the public launch slated for April 13 at co-working space Galvanize in San Francisco. The robot was designed as a solution for hospitality settings, convention centers, airports and gyms where customers want healthy quick service options, as well as an option to install in fast food chains to bolster their fresh food options.
Automation in front of house restaurant operations is a growing trend, as Michael Wolf wrote in The Spoon back in January, with a focus on how fast food companies are adapting. “Companies like Panera, Wendy’s and McDonalds are rolling out self-order kiosks nationwide, making fast food one of the fastest growing categories in what some predict will be a $73 billion self-serve kiosk market in 2020.”
Sekar, for his part, isn’t concerned about the effect Sally and other food preparation robots like her will have on the restaurant industry. “It’s happening in every industry now. You can either fight it, or be on the team that makes it happen.”