(Rosie from The Jetsons; WA-7 from Dex’s Diner, Star Wars II Attack of the Clones; robot Woody Allen from Sleeper; Mr. Waiter concept design)
Where are our kitchen robots?
From Isaac Asimov to The Stepford Wives, there’s been the fantasy of an anthropomorphized household domestic to make our lives easier.
Then last week we watched while a robot performed a daring, elaborate landing sequence that put us on Mars. Since then the Mars Rover has been scoping out the planet and sending pictures and status updates from its own Twitter account (@MarsCuriosity).
I’m just looking for a little help around the house. I don’t think that’s too much to ask.
Here in the U.S. we’ve kind of stalled at the Roomba vacuum and the dancing robot mouse at Chuck E. Cheese. There is far more enthusiasm for the kitchen robot concept in Asia.
Harbin, China’s Haohai Robot Restaurant has 18 robot waiters and cooks that perform nearly every task in the restaurant. Most are single purpose: there are dumpling bots and noodle bots, a host bot that greets and seats, and a bot that scrubs the pots. Each can work a five hour shift on a single battery charge.
It takes just two robots to run FuA-Men Restaurant in Nagoya, Japan. But then again, the menu has just one item—a bowl of ramen in pork broth. Named for its Fully Automated Men, the owner claims that it’s a perfect bowl every time because of the robots’ “accuracy of timing in boiling noodles, precise movements in adding toppings and consistency of the taste and temperature of the soup.”
At the MK Restaurant chain in Thailand, about a dozen of the franchise owners opted to staff their restaurants with Yumbo. The Linux-based robot simulates a young teenager with an after-school job; he’s shorter than average with a youthful voice and big bright eyes on a video screen head. He carries trays of food from the kitchen and buses tables afterward.
The Dalu Robot Restaurant in China’s Shandong province didn’t need a traditional serving staff but just a delivery system to get the raw food to the tables. It’s a hot pot eatery where diners select their ingredients and cook their own meals by dipping various vegetables and meats into pots of broth, oil, and chilis. The robots, which resemble a gold-plated Klaatu from ‘The Day the Earth Stood Still,’ circulate through the dining room on bicycle-powered food carts, pausing for deliveries when diners flag them down.
A robot in every kitchen? If these restaurants are any indication, I’d say not so soon.
At this point, robots are no different than bread makers and pasta machines—nice to have, but they’re still just the one-trick ponies of the kitchen. Like all too many appliances and gadgets, they’re uni-taskers. I’m sure electric crepe pans and strawberry hullers have their devoted fans, and they make perfect sense for a restaurant with strawberry crepes on the menu, but they have no business squandering space in most people’s kitchens.
Give me a humanoid version of the smartphone and an app store stocked with dishwashing, table setting, and onion chopping. Then we can talk.
Until then, I’ll stick with my Twitter relationship with the Mars Rover.