Chowbotics is Sending Sally the Salad Making Robot Off to Colleges

Chris Albrecht wrote . . . . . . . . .

Chowbotics is packing up Sally the salad making robot and sending it off to college. Well, many colleges actually, as the food robotics startup is set to announce next week a bigger push into the higher education market.

Chowbotics told us that this school year, students at multiple colleges and universities in the U.S. will be able to buy salads and breakfast bowls from Sally the robot. Those schools include: Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland, OH; College of the Holy Cross in Worcester, MA; the University of Guelph in Ontario, Canada; Elmira College in Elmira, NY; the University of Memphis in Memphis, TN; and Wichita State University in Wichita, KS. These schools join Marshall University in Huntington, WV, which installed Sally in 2018.

Students can order from thousands of different custom and pre-made meals Sally can make from the 22 ingredients it stores. Sally will work with campus meal plans and accept credit cards for payment, but unlike the school cafeteria or on-campus restaurants, Sally can fit in the corner of a dorm lobby and feed people 24 hours a day.

Sally is part of two big trends we at The Spoon see accelerating. First it’s emblematic of the golden age of vending machines that we are entering. Advances in robotics and other technologies means that automated vending machines are no longer relegated to sodas and Snickers bars. Machines like Sally and Yo-Kai Express can whip up complex, high-end meals in just minutes and around the clock in high-traffic locations like colleges, hospitals and airports.

But Sally is also part of a bigger wave of robots heading off to college. In addition to the stationary Sally, delivery robots from Starship and Kiwi are rolling around more campuses delivering restaurant made meals to the student masses.

The bottom line is that eating at college is not only vastly different from when I went to school (long ago) — but pretty soon, it will also be a lot different from how people ate at college last year.

Source: The Spoon


Blood Pressure Monitoring May One Day be Easy as Taking a Video Selfie

Blood pressure monitoring might one day become as easy as taking a video selfie, according to new research in Circulation: Cardiovascular Imaging, an American Heart Association journal.

Transdermal optical imaging measures blood pressure by detecting blood flow changes in smartphone-captured facial videos. Ambient light penetrates the skin’s outer layer allowing digital optical sensors in smartphones to visualize and extract blood flow patterns, which transdermal optical imaging models can use to predict blood pressure.

Finding an accessible, easy way to monitor blood pressure is important given that nearly half of American adults have high blood pressure and many don’t even know they have it, according to the American Heart Association.

“High blood pressure is a major contributor to cardiovascular disease — a leading cause of death and disability. To manage and prevent it, regular monitoring of one’s blood pressure is essential,” said study lead author Kang Lee, Ph.D., professor and research chair in developmental neuroscience at the University of Toronto in Canada. “Cuff-based blood pressure measuring devices, while highly accurate, are inconvenient and uncomfortable. Users tend not to follow American Heart Association guidelines and device manufacturers’ suggestion to take multiple measurements each time.”

Lee and his colleagues measured the blood flow of 1,328 Canadian and Chinese adults by capturing two-minute videos using an iPhone equipped with transdermal optical imaging software.

The researchers compared systolic, diastolic and pulse pressure measurements captured from smartphone videos to blood pressure readings using a traditional cuff-based continuous blood pressure measurement device.

The researchers used the data they gathered to teach the technology how to accurately determine blood pressure and pulse from facial blood flow patterns. They found that on average, transdermal optical imaging predicted systolic blood pressure with nearly 95% accuracy and diastolic blood pressure with pulse pressure at nearly 96% accuracy.

The technology’s high accuracy is within international standards for devices used to measure blood pressure, according to Lee.

Researchers videoed faces in a well-controlled environment with fixed lighting, so it’s unclear whether the technology can accurately measure blood pressure in less controlled environments, including homes. Also, while the study’s participants had a variety of skin tones, the sample lacked subjects with either extremely dark or fair skin tones. Lee and colleagues are also looking into reducing the needed video length from 2 minutes to 30 seconds, in order to make the technology more user-friendly.

People in the study all had normal blood pressure. “If future studies confirm our results and show this method can be used to measure blood pressures that are clinically high or low, we will have the option of a contactless and non-invasive method to monitor blood pressures conveniently – perhaps anytime and anywhere – for health management purposes,” Lee said.

“This study shows that facial video can contain some information about systolic blood pressure,” said Ramakrishna Mukkamala, Ph.D., Circulation Imaging editorial author and professor in the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering at Michigan State University in East Lansing. “If future studies could confirm this exciting result in hypertensive patients and with video camera measurements made during daily life, then obtaining blood pressure information with a click of a camera may become reality.”

Source: American Heart Association

Today’s Comic

Japanese Startup Will Sell Cultured Foie Gras by 2021

Catherine Lamb wrote . . . . . . . . .

At SKS Japan this week, lots of speakers have been predicting what the future of food might look like: it might be cooked by robotic articulating arms, it might be carbon neutral, or it might be personalized to individuals’ specific tastes.

But the most futuristic vision of all might have come from Yuki Hanyu, CEO and founder of DIY cultured meat community Shojinmeat. He sketched out a time in which we’re all living on Mars, growing steak in bioreactors in much the same way we brew beer right now.

That reality is still a long way off. However, right now Hanyu is still working on quite a few projects pushing us towards a future in which everyone — yes, even you — can grow their own meat, and cultured meat is available in your corner supermarket.

Shojinmeat was the original enterprise, but in 2015 Hanyu spun out Integriculture, a startup creating full-stack cellular agriculture solutions. After his session at SKS Japan, Hanyu described his company’s projected timeline to me:


By the end of this year Integriculture will start selling Space Salt, a dried version of cell culture media. For those who don’t nerd out on cellular agriculture, media is the liquid “food” that allows animal cells to rapidly proliferate to form meat. Space Salt is Integriculture’s (secret) proprietary blend of salt and food safe amino acids, which, when mixed with water, forms a DIY cell culture media. Hanyu wants to sell it to home enthusiasts who can use it to grow their own meat using Shojinmeat guide.


While its focus is cultured meat, in 2020 Integriculture is also planning to sell its media for use in cosmetic applications, specifically as an anti-aging skincare product.


In 2021, Integriculture will launch its first cell-based meat product: foie gras. Hanyu said that they decided to tackle foie gras as its first product because of its creamy texture, which means that they don’t have to emulate the texture and chew of meat. Since foie gras is already quite expensive, starting with that product will also presumably give consumers less of a sticker shock when they see its high price. Accordingly they plan to launch first in high-end restaurants in Japan.

“We’re not aiming for massive revenue at first,” Hanyu told me during SKS Japan. Instead, he’s expecting that the foie gras launch will be more of a proof of concept to show that cell-based meat is feasible and delicious. He also wants it to help establish regulatory guidelines for cultured animal products in Japan.

Which brings us back to the Space Salt. Presumably, when Integriculture starts selling its cell-based foie gras, Japanese food regulatory bodies will ask the company what’s in it in order to approve it for public consumption. At that time Hanyu and his team plan to show that the only two inputs are duck liver cells and Space Salt (plus water), the latter of which contains ingredients that are already sold on the market. He’s hoping that if they prove that duck liver and Space Salt are both already available for purchase, then by the transitive property their cell-based foie gras shouldn’t pose a problem.

If the 2021 restaurant launch goes as planned, Integriculture will start selling foie gras in supermarkets in 2023.

An ambitious timeline, to be sure — and that’s just the tip of the iceberg. The JST (Japan Science and Technology) Agency, part of the Japanese government, is investing part of its $20 million funding in Integriculture’s research for large-scale cell-based meat. The company is also working with JAXA (the Japanese Aerospace Exploration Agency) on its Space Food X program, which is developing closed-loop food solutions for space travelers.

That’s a lot of balls to juggle for the startup, especially one with only 13 employees and ¥300 million (USD 2.7 million) in funding. There’s also relatively little local support: despite the fact that cultured meat will likely debut in Asia, Japan is still quite light on cellular agriculture startups.

Interestingly, there’s at least one other company openly working in the cell-based meat space — and it’s a big one. Nissin Foods, the instant ramen giant, is partnering with the University of Tokyo to develop their own small cultured meat cubes to include in their freeze-dried ramen packs.

However, as they’re a large company which would require billions of tiny cell-based meat cubes — and they need to make them cheaply to keep down the cost of their product — Hanyu said that they’re likely 10 years away from actually incorporating cultured pork or chicken into the ramen packs.

Maybe then highbrow consumers will be able to have instant noodles with lab-grown foie gras.

Source: The Spoon

U.S. Fast-food Chains Consider Trying License Plate Recognition in Drive-throughs

Camilla Hodgson wrote . . . . . . . . .

Drive-throughs have been a staple of American life since the mid-20th century, but how they work — and how well they know you — is about to change.

Fast-food chains are looking to deploy cameras that recognize license plates in order to identify customers, personalize digital menus and speed up sales. Starbucks began trying such a system in South Korea last year with customers who preregistered their cars. Restaurants in the United States are now looking to follow suit.

License plate recognition has been around since the mid-1970s and traditionally has been associated with law enforcement and repossession agencies. Cameras attached to police cars or lampposts read the license plates of passing vehicles and compare the results to a database of wanted cars. The system alerts officers when a suspect vehicle is spotted.

As the cost of the software, and of high-quality internet-connected cameras, has come down, the uses of license plate recognition have grown. Wary homeowner associations use private systems to spot potential criminals, and construction sites use the technology to monitor incoming traffic. Privacy advocates say that this is excessive and that the widespread use of tracking technology is dangerous.

Drive-throughs could use license plate recognition to help identify repeat customers, enabling a restaurant chain to link an individual car with a customer’s credit card and order history — meaning the customers could pay without pulling out their wallets or phones.

Customers who belong to loyalty programs or use restaurants’ apps could add their license plates to their existing profiles; cameras positioned in drive-through lanes would then take photos of cars’ plates, and the analysis software would determine whether they belonged to known customers.

How chains would ask people to opt in, and whether they would store the license plate images of those who don’t opt in, remains to be seen.

‘The advent of these capabilities’

License plate recognition start-up 5Thru said several drive-through chains in the United States and Canada were trying its technology, and it expected to sign its first major contract by the end of next year.

Chief Executive Daniel McCann said 5Thru’s technology helped restaurants process about 30 extra cars a day by reducing order time. He said the system, driven by artificial intelligence, also improves upselling by recommending items based on a customer’s past orders, the weather and how busy a store’s kitchen is.

Tracking customers using cameras is just one way stores are seeking to become more efficient in the face of online competition. Data-driven innovations include systems that alert shops when a product is out of stock and systems that try to interpret expressions on a customer’s face to gauge the person’s interest.

In March, McDonald’s bought machine-learning start-up Dynamic Yield for $300 million. Part of the idea was that Dynamic Yield, which specializes in “decision logic,” would help make food and add-on suggestions to drive-through customers who are in line. Drivers would see tailored options on digital menus, based on factors including the time of day and their selection, the chain said.

In 2017, fried chicken chain KFC partnered with Chinese search engine Baidu to develop a facial recognition tool used to predict someone’s order based on the person’s “age and mood” and recommend a meal.

Although no drive-through chains in the United States have rolled out license plate recognition at scale, McCann said, “there are a lot of conversations going on.” Jason Spielfogel, director of product management at security company Identiv, and John Chigos, founder of PlateSmart Technologies, also said the number of inquiries from retailers about license plate recognition was growing.

Meanwhile, telecom giant AT&T said it had received numerous requests from fast-food chains looking to deploy technologies such as facial recognition and license plate recognition via its 5G networks, some of which it was now working with.

“We are at the advent of these capabilities,” said Michael Colaneri, vice president of retail and restaurants at AT&T, though “nobody has quite pulled it all off.” Given increasing concerns about privacy and surveillance, he emphasized the importance of obtaining customer permission before rolling out these systems.

Data-driven drive-through

In addition to technical expertise, effective data-driven personalization relies on a huge amount of information about customers. Privacy campaigners have long criticized license plate recognition, calling it overly invasive and poorly regulated. In the United States, states have different rules governing the technology, including to whom these systems can be sold and how long the data may be stored.

States including Arkansas, Georgia and Maine restrict the technology’s use to law enforcement and security purposes. But business can use license plate recognition in most states without explicit driver consent: Courts have generally ruled that there is no expectation of privacy in license plates.

Although license plate recognition photos collected by police forces are protected by local laws, some vendors, such as Motorola-owned Vigilant, sell access to huge troves of such data collected by commercial customers. This information is not subject to the same usage and deletion rules that govern law enforcement.

In this context, restaurants “don’t want to talk about [license plate recognition] because it sounds too Big Brother-y,” said Aaron Allen, founder of restaurant consultancy Aaron Allen & Associates.

Which metrics are chosen to help make predictions — license plate recognition cameras can identify a vehicle’s age, make and condition — and how long to store the images remain key decisions for restaurant chains.

In 2014, a user of online forum MetaFilter asked whether McDonald’s was “running my license plate through a database, in near-real time” after being greeted with a “Welcome back!” by a drive-through employee. A debate ensued, which prompted talk of paranoia, spying, tinfoil hats and the suggestion that “scanning license plates seems like an absurd, time-consuming, expensive, and completely useless thing for a McDonald’s franchise to do.”

But in March 2018, discussing the Dynamic Yield acquisition, McDonald’s global Chief Information Officer Daniel Henry said the company could in the future use license plate recognition to personalize smart menus.

Several years earlier, in 2012, Xerox had filed a patent application for a drive-through tool to help track repeat customers, which went a step further — using “vehicle and facial information.”

Xerox has not advertised that specific product. However, the company offers license plate recognition services as well as a “passenger detection” police tool. The system uses cameras to identify a vehicle and how many people are in it, and redacts facial images “for privacy purposes.”

Source : Los Angeles Times

Video: Laksa Made by a Robot Chef

Singapore catering group Neo Group recently unveiled its latest innovation, where you can have a piping hot bowl of the yummy Singapore dish in just 45 seconds.

Watch video at You Tube (1:24 minutes) . . . . . . .