Last week, the robotics arm of Japanese tech and energy group Softbank unveiled a future where food service robots work hand-in-hand to deliver a meal to the customer.
The demo featured a Yo-Kai ramen machine, a Bear Robotics Servi-Server robot, and Softbank’s own humanoid robot, Pepper, who acted as host and entertainer. The announcement and demo were part of a refocused effort by Softbank Robotics to position itself as a robotics integrator.
The demo took place in Tokyo’s Shibuya district at Pepper House, Softbank’s proof-of-concept store for robotic restaurants. As seen in the video below, the grocery order process flow starts with the consumer placing the order through an app. From there, Yo-Kai begins preparing the ramen, and a cartoon version of Pepper appears on screen preparing the ramen. Once the ramen is ready, Pepper sends a notification to Servi to approach the Yo-Kai. From there, a human removes the ramen from the Yo-Kai and places it on Servi’s tray, and Servi brings the hot ramen to the customer’s table.
SoftBank Ramen robot vending machine, order, cook, serve, automated
According to the Japanese publication Robotstart, Softbank plans to install a robotic hand on the Servi in the future to eliminate the need for a human server.
The demo is an interesting illustration of a fully automated robotic future. Most implementations of food robotics today involve individual robots that automate only part of the food service process, be it food preparation, cooking, or serving. We haven’t seen many examples of the connection between the different parts of the process, mainly because startups building these machines are more focused on the part of the process. Softbank hopes to change that by providing integration services to combine all the pieces into one integrated service offering.
If other more mature industries are any indication, the introduction of integration services into the food robotics business is a relatively natural progression in a currently burgeoning industry. Other tech sectors such as enterprise IT, telecoms and retail tech have all evolved into integration consulting industries, and it’s not hard to imagine some of the more prominent players in adjacent fields like Softbank becoming integrators for food robotics. The ability to connect disparate robotic systems from different companies together is becoming relatively commonplace and a necessary step to expand the field of food robotics beyond the small niche it is in today and becoming instrumental in building the fully automated restaurant concepts of tomorrow contribute.