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Tech Talk

Tech Talk

Mr. Robot is in the house

“Automation is key to unlocking the value of humans. They will work together not against one another. Human touch cannot be replaced.”
− Bear Robotics founder John Ha

They’re here, with lively names likes Sally, Penny, Flippy and Suzomo. They’re ready to roll up their iron sleeves and help flip burgers, compose sushi rolls, make salads, create bowls, bus tables—and that’s just for starters.

All promise to make life easier for workers, more efficient for owners and less costly for customers, and none have any aspirations of replacing humans. There’s no stopping progress, but with robots this helpful, why would you want to?

Bear Robotics’ Penny has an enviable skill set, including autonomously running food and pre-bussing dishes, increasing sales by more than 20 percent wherever she works by attracting new customers and raising tips by 18 percent with improved service quality. If that’s not enough, consider that she also boosts employee morale by freeing workers from repetitive tasks and allowing them to take on more creative functions.

“This will shift the daily work of millions of foodservice people and improve the overall culture of an industry that hasn’t changed for decades,” promises Juan Higueros, chief operating officer for Bear Robotics. “With increased pressure on wages and fewer people looking for work, technological innovations are needed to keep the industry moving forward.”

His plans for Penny in 2019 aim to do that by testing her out not just in restaurants, but airport eateries, hotels, casinos, corporate cafes, university dining and nursing homes.

say hello to Sally!

07 02 tech talk sally

Chowbotic’s salad-making Sally, the smallest robot of its kind on the market, fitting neatly into a 3x3-foot space, also provides operators and customers options unimaginable a decade ago. Offering more than 1,000 custom, healthy meal choices that can be made in less than a minute, complete with nutritionals, Sally expanded her capabilities significantly in 2018.

Led by a deeply creative team, including Chief Culinary Officer Charlie Ayers, “the chef who fed Google,” Sally added yogurt parfaits, fruit bowls and grain bowls to her repertoire, and poke and acai bowls are in the works. Her compact footprint also grew: As an after-hours extension of the Healthy Food Café in Indianapolis; as a workplace dining option offering through Compass Group; as a boon to busy travelers at Buffalo Niagara International Airport looking to bring a healthy meal on board; and as a safer alternative to a salad bar at the Choo Choo Café in Tennessee’s Children’s Hospital at Erlanger, reducing the risk of foodborne illness among the high-risk population.

At Chicago’s Revival Food Hall, TOMI sushi bar co-owner Trisha Bun also presses a robot into service to offer customers a premium experience at reasonable prices. Using Suzomo, which churns out 350 pieces of sushi per minute, means “I can use high quality ingredients like a Michelin-starred chef would use,” but starting at $6.50 per roll. Customers are fascinated with the robot, she reports, often coming into the kitchen to see it up close. What they often discover is the art of sushi depends not on the process, but the person behind the preparation.

As every robot knows, there’s no substitute for the human touch.

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