Recently there is a noticeable increase in reports and investment-news regarding robotic applications in the food area – from last-mile delivery to automatized production (e.g. pizza robot). This report will point to application forms, reasons for use, issues and investments around food & robotics.
Within food & robotics, all circles around technologies like automation, artificial intelligence, machine learning, autonomous driving and connectivity. Innovations in these technologies are now used to evolutionise the way food is ordered, cooked, handed over or delivered– in short: it changes our „culinary future.“
At the moment, there are the following scopes of application for the so-called „Foodservice Robots:“
A) Restaurant Automation
B) Delivery Automation
Less labour expenses, higher and constant quality, affordable & qualitative food – these are the most stated reasons for the use of foodservice robots. A robot works more, gets never tired, the quality stays constant – therefore a robot is advantageous. Zume’s pizza-delivery truck (zumepizza.com, California) uses automating technology to bring the pizzas fresher, quicker and better to their customers. Via robotic support the pizza is pre-assembled and „en route“ personalised and finalised. The benefit: the pizza is delivered fresh and hot, less food additives have to be used, the pizza is affordable and healthier. Above: through machine learning is calculated how many and which kind of pizzas have to be produced. Also the restaurant Spyce (www.spyce.com, opened May 2018 in Boston) uses robotic skills. It offers affordable healthy bowls (USD 7,50) produced by their kitchen robot (which makes a 210 bowls per hour). Human staff just garnishes and hands over the bowl to the customer. In terms of efficiency, robots (unfortunately) are far ahead of humans. The fully autonomous grocery packing robot of the Israeli Startup CommonSense Robotics (www.cs-robotics.com) takes three minutes to pack a standard grocery shopping bag, a human in contrast takes 10-times longer. Moreover, with packing robots, places can be used as storage that would be improper for humans. Therefore, CommonSense is building a network of high-capacity micro-fulfilment centres in unused urban places, also in order to bring the food neared to the customers and by this create again more efficiency.
Job-eliminator or job-creator?
The use of robots very often leads to the discussion if this causes a loss of workplaces. In the food business, exactly the opposite should be the case. Why? – As robots replace humans at simple, but cost-intensive works, more humans can take care of hospitality and direct customer-contact. Via mobile ordering and payment systems, Starbucks, for instance, could hire more Baristas – which is good for Starbucks, as more coffee can be sold, but also good for the customers, as they get their coffee quicker. So far, completely automatized food places, could not take hold, because they need more „robo-watchdogs“ than humans are needed in a regular restaurant business. Due to this reason the San Francisco based fully automatized (from ordering, cooking, to handing over) quick-service restaurant Eatsa (www.eatsa.com) closed all but two of their locations.
At the 4GamechangerFestival in Vienna in April this year, the philosopher Richard David Precht commented on the dynamics of robots/AI vs. human workforce. The replacement of simple tasks (from handling of files till cutting onions) by AI and automation is unstoppable. Just in the USA alone, 37 – 45 % of all retail jobs (6 – 7m) are said to be automatised and robotised (according to the Advisory Cornerstone Capital Group). According to Precht this technology-wave will bring us onto a next evolution-level that will finally lead to more wealth. Nevertheless, first, this process will lead to mass-unemployment within simple tasks – therefore governments are in demand to early develop solutions.
Still, the right application of foodservice robots and a well-balanced mix of automation and human hospitality definitely leads to more efficiency, quality, and a holistically better restaurant experience. It is this culinary future also investors believe in. In fact, recently there have been lots of investments in food robots, food automating and delivery robots:
And in German speaking countries?
In these parts we know self-service kiosks at McDonalds & Co, but fully autonomous robot-restaurants are not present. A first approach is the digital restaurant „Data Kitchen“ (datakitchen.berlin, opened 12/2016) created by Heinz Gindullis (best known for his „Cookie“ in Berlin) and SAP. In this restaurant orders can only be placed digitally. The food can be picked up from a high-tech wall with 20 food boxes. The name of the guest is shown on the box, by entering the code the box opens. The concept is redolent of Eatsa from USA, with the difference that at Eatsa also the cooking process is fully automatised.
Conclusively, the startup and investment scene within the sphere of robotics & food is very USA-driven. Still, we believe that due to quality, efficiency and labour expenses reasons, there will be a rising demand of robotic kitchens and foodservice robots beyond order kiosks within the fast (casual) area also in Europe – presupposed not neglecting hospitality. To that effect we will soon see European interpretations and concepts regarding food, robotics & automation and consequent investments.