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Ask the robot!

Robots have been tried in Guangzhou, China but apparently they are not au pair with human waiters and a few restaurants fired them after a short trial for not being able to deliver soups. Image credit: Chinanews.com

China is moving fast on the adoption of robots stealing the thunder to Japan and South Korea. Manufacturing robots have been in use for quite a while (China is the world largest manufacture in the world). Now robots are starting to be adopted in areas where you won’t expect them like restaurants and television.

Haidilao, a big restaurant chain operator in China, has started to use robot in the kitchen of one of its restaurant in Beijing at the end of October 2018 replacing all cooks and waiters. One restaurant? Not a big deal, you would say. Actually, that is the first of 5,000 restaurants that Haidilao plans to automate in the coming years, some operated outside of China. Today Haidilao operates 300+ restaurant and they see the automatisation of restaurants as the key for their expansion in the coming years.

Given that they have an average of 20 cooks and waiters per location over the three shifts periods) this means the robots will “eat up” some 100,000 jobs! Now, that is a big deal, isn’t it?

To support this expansion Haidilao enter into a partnership with Panasonic creating a 20M$ joint venture, Ying Hai Holding Pte.,  to develop, deploy and operate the robots.

They are not the only company interested in robots taking over in restaurants. Several others have already being operating in 2018 and two restaurant in Guangzhou have started to fire some of their robots. The reason reported (to the company that provided the robot-waiters) is their clumsiness in serving soup resulting in spills and customers complaints.

As you can see it may be hard to be a robot!

These robot waiters have a cost in the order of 7-8 thousands US $, pretty expensive for the Chinese average restaurant but they are getting cheaper and even factoring in the operation cost the total cost of ownership is becoming competitive for restaurant that open all days and into the night since a robot does not ask for limited working hours, hence it can replace 3 waiters or 3 cooks (and even more since they don’t ask for vacation either). In addition sick leaves are much shorter (since repair time is measured in hours and usually large restaurant keep a spare robot around to make up for other robots downtime),

In the television area I just read that Xinhua, a state run news agency, has unveiled a robot AI-anchors to go on stage and read the news on television. So far it seems that this “anchor” is not very sophisticated, more an animated puppet, but still, all these evolutions show that robots are starting to percolate in our world. Better get used to the idea …

About Roberto Saracco

Roberto Saracco fell in love with technology and its implications long time ago. His background is in math and computer science. Until April 2017 he led the EIT Digital Italian Node and then was head of the Industrial Doctoral School of EIT Digital up to September 2018. Previously, up to December 2011 he was the Director of the Telecom Italia Future Centre in Venice, looking at the interplay of technology evolution, economics and society. At the turn of the century he led a World Bank-Infodev project to stimulate entrepreneurship in Latin America. He is a senior member of IEEE where he leads the New Initiative Committee and co-chairs the Digital Reality Initiative. He is a member of the IEEE in 2050 Ad Hoc Committee. He teaches a Master course on Technology Forecasting and Market impact at the University of Trento. He has published over 100 papers in journals and magazines and 14 books.