Step aside, conveyor belt sushi restaurants, Alibaba has set up its first robot restaurant in Shanghai that automates the process from seating to service.
Using an app, radio frequency tags, and machines, Robot.He Restaurant represents the tech conglomerate’s latest push into the food business by using technology to streamline processes and reduce cost.
The restaurant is located inside the Jiading branch of Alibaba’s Hema supermarket, which has outlets across 13 cities in China and already automates much of its shopping experience. To eat here, you have to download the Hema app, which then assigns you a seat.
At your table, there will be a QR code on top for you to scan and browse through the menu. Alternatively, choose live seafood or other fresh produce at Hema supermarket, which will be delivered from the check out counter to the kitchen via a conveyor system that runs throughout the store.
Food waiting to be cooked will first be stored in an automated refrigerator that keeps the temperature at a constant four degrees celsius and has a central robotic arm to store and retrieve items. While the chef is an old fashioned human, once the dish is ready, it goes into a robot box that runs in lanes alongside the tables, like the highway of self-driving cars in the Will Smith movie “I, Robot.”
When the box reaches your table, it spins around, flips open its plastic lid, and you retrieve your meal with your boring fleshy hands. The box then twirls away and returns to the kitchen for its next order.
One of the main technologies behind the system is radio frequency identification (RFID), which links ordering, preparation, and management together, Hema co-founder Hou Yi told AI Caijing website. “Everything is transparent and digital,” he said. “Consumers can trace their dish at any time. The chef’s productivity is also traceable and easy to manage. It also lets us standardize and replicate the process at other robot restaurants in the future.”
Robots has also decreased the cooking time. According to data by Hema, using automated cooking equipment has cut the time it takes to steam a fish to 11 minutes, 50 percent faster than over traditional equipment.
Alibaba plans to expand the practices to other branches, but whether robots will be successful in the restaurant business remains to be seen. In 2016, a restaurant in Guangzhou got rid of its robotic staff after their human colleagues complained about their incompetence.
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