It was bound to happen. With all of the interest in service-oriented robots -- like those that make your noodles, serve your drinks, and make your burgers -- it should come as little surprise that a restaurant comprised nearly entirely of a robotic wait staff has opened in China.
The so-called Robot Restaurant -- outlined in the Daily Mail and other published reports and a video online -- is located in Harbin, Heilongjiang province in China and has a staff of 18 multi-colored robots that uses sensors and conveyor belts to move around the restaurant and serve customers.
The robots perform a number of tasks, like bringing specialty noodle and dumpling dishes to tables after human wait staff take orders, leading clients to their tables, and also cooking the dishes being served.
The Harbin Haohai Robot Company in China has developed a robotic restaurant staff and opened a restaurant that uses them to cook, greet clients, and wait tables. The robots, which are multicolored and travel around via sensors on the floor, cost about $31,000 to $47,000 and run on batteries with a five-hour life. The move is part of a growing trend toward service robots, a market that could outpace even industrial robots in the next several years.
They stand between about four feet and five feet tall, can exhibit about 10 different facial expressions, and run on batteries that have about a five-hour life span. The robots can also verbally greet customers.
The Harbin Haohai Robot Company designed the machines in use at the restaurant, which serves about 30 different dishes and in which the company invested about 5 million yuan ($790,000). Each robot itself cost about 200,000 to 300,000 yuan ($31,500 to $47,000). The restaurant opened last year.
This kind of noodle joint may sound like the stuff of sci-fi, but it comes as little surprise to me, someone who's been watching the robotic space for a while. Robots in the restaurant industry are part of a new wave of service robots emerging in a market that is expected to grow at an even faster clip than the busy industrial robot market over the new few years, according to a recent study from Freedonia, "World Robots to 2016."
Asia in particular -- perhaps because of its interest in anime and sci-fi -- has been particularly receptive to using robots to interact with humans in service jobs. In addition to Harbin Haohai's creation of a robotic restaurant staff, it was a chef in Beijing named Cui Runquan who invented the noodle-making robot, which looks similar to the ones serving customers in Harbin.