Washington Restaurant Market Watch: Robot kitchens on the near future menu

Washington Restaurant Market Watch: Robot kitchens on the near future menu https://wahospitality.org/wp-content/uploads/2015/05/robot2015-AsiaCES-940x198.jpeg

By Paul Schlienz

It sounds like science fiction, but it’s all very real and on its way to a restaurant near you sooner than you may think.

Imagine the Jetsons-like concept of a robot kitchen. It was on display this week, in Shanghai, at the Consumer Electronics Show (CES) Asia, where attendees were treated to cyborg-made crab bisque developed by Chef Tim Anderson, a former winner of the BBC’s Masterchef.

“I chose crab bisque as a dish because it’s a real challenge for human chef to make well, never mind a machine,” Anderson told the South China Morning Post. “If it can cook a bisque, it can do stir-fries and we’re looking forward to teaching it many more recipes in the months to come.”

The automated kitchen was designed by Moley Robotics, a London-based firm. The kitchen includes two large robotic arms that can create dishes based on a digital library of recipes. Shadow Robot, a company that provides technologies for the National Aeronautics and Space Administration, designed the arms. Consisting of 20 motors, 24 joints and 129 sensors, the arms mimic the movements and dexterity of human hands.

The kitchen on display is fully equipped although there will ultimately be an option of having integrating the robot into an existing kitchen. A full-scale reproduction of a mass-market version of the device, engineered to fit in regular kitchens and featuring dishwashing functionality and smaller control arms, was also on display.

Mark Oleynik, founder and chief executive of Moley, insists that the automated kitchen can cook any dish a human chef can create since the machine merely replicates what humans do.

“For that reason, there is no limit on the amount of recipes,” Oleynik told the South China Morning Post.

Work remains to be done on the development of the robotic hand technology and the kitchen equipment that accompanies it before the product can hit the market. Although still a prototype, the product is, however, on track to reach the public, in 2017, in a version with 2,000 recipes.

The automated kitchen has attracted major interest from investors, and the company is planning announcing new funding in July.

Ultimately, the robot kitchen will be developed so users will be able to share their recipes with others, potentially even making money from their recipes although these features are unlikely to be part of the version planned for the 2017 release to the public.

Once this product is released, it will likely find an eager market in restaurants that are looking for ways to cut costs and become more efficient in the face of challenges like the $15 minimum wage enacted in cities like Seattle and Los Angeles.

Typical of restaurant operators is Flynn Restaurant Group’s view of automation.

“We’re also trying to become more efficient in every way we can, which unfortunately translates into trying to automate some processes and just be efficient with labor (and) runs contrary to what ought to be the national priority of creating jobs,” Greg Flynn, founder and CEO of Flynn Restaurant Group, which franchises 475 Applebee’s and 185 Taco Bells, told CNBC.

Indeed, the robots are coming. Be prepared.

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