Transferring dirty plates from a busbin to a dishrack was my least favorite job when I worked in restaurants. Handling other people’s leftovers. Getting sauce on my hands or clothes. It’s honest work, but blech.

That task, however, may soon be a thing of the past. The Engineer reports that Cambridge Consultants has developed Turbo Clean, a machine that uses computer vision, AI and robotics to automatically clear dirty dishes and glassware off of trays (think: cafeteria style).

As trays loaded with dirty dishes pass under a camera, the system can identify the difference between plates, silverware and glasses. It then dispatches the appropriate robotic attachment to lift the targeted item up off the tray and deposit it into the appropriate bin for cleaning. You can see it in action in this video:

Turbo Clean: Tackling the most unloved job in the commercial kitchen from Cambridge Consultants on Vimeo.

Right now Turbo Clean is just a prototype built for a “multinational catering company,” but it’s easy to see how it could be adopted in high-volume eating facilities like hospitals, colleges or military bases.

According to Cambridge Consultants, Turbo Clean can process a tray every six seconds. And since it’s a robot, it won’t ever get tired, call in sick or take a break, so it’s another reminder that robots and automation will be eating human foodservice jobs. Clearing food trays is one of those manual repetitive tasks that are ripe for automation, but hopefully shifting that to robots will create new, more creative jobs for people.

Seeing Turbo Clean in action also makes me wonder what Dishcraft, another startup that has been quietly building robots for commercial kitchens is crating. We’ll have a chance to find out at our upcoming ArticulATE food robot conference, where we’ll be chatting with Dishcraft Founder and CEO, Linda Pouliot. It’s on April 16 in San Francisco and you should definitely clear your calendar to join us.

Leave a Reply