Video: Cafe X Robotic Coffeebar

Watch video at You Tube (0:55 minutes) . . . .

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This coffee bar employs futuristic robotic baristas to make and serve your coffee . . . . .

Meet Sally, the Robot Who Makes Perfect Salads

Kate Krader wrote . . . . . .

Silicon Valley’s newest celebrity chef goes by just one name, Sally. This chef has just one specialty: salad.

Still, Sally will make you the most perfectly proportioned salad you’ve ever eaten: through science. Sally is a green-and-brown robot, a brand-new creation from Chowbotics Inc. (that’s a real name) and a major new player in a potential multi-billion market for food-service robots.

Sally occupies about the same amount of space as a dorm room refrigerator, and uses 21 different ingredients—including romaine, kale, seared chicken breast, Parmesan, California walnuts, cherry tomatoes, and Kalamata olives—to craft more than a thousand types of salad in about 60 seconds, while the customer watches the process. The machine weighs in at 350 pounds, making it more appropriate for industrial settings than for home kitchens at the moment. “Sally will be going on a diet,” said its creator, Deepak Sekar, 35, founder of Chowbotics Inc., looking into his and Sally’s future.

The benefits of Sally are manifold, according to Sekar. “Sally is the next generation of salad restaurant,” he claims, comparing it to chains such as Chopt and Fresh & Co. For one thing, a robot can make salad faster than a human can. Also, you will know precisely how many calories your salad is delivering; there won’t be the problem of consuming one piled high with garnishes that turn out to be more fattening than a burger. And it’s more hygienic to have a machine prepare your salad than to have multiple people working on a line—or worse still, a serve-yourself salad bar.

Sally does require a human set of hands to prep the ingredients that go into its canisters, which are then installed in the robot. (Sekar called the process of chopping ingredients in the machine “too complicated right now,” although it’s something he promises for the future; he offered an analogy: “It’s like paper getting stuck in a printer; it shuts down the process.”)

This spring, Sally will debut in Silicon Valley, at Mama Mia’s, a fast-casual restaurant in Santa Clara, Calif., and at the corporate cafeteria at H-E-B Grocery Co. in Texas. The public launch will come on April 13 at co-working space Galvanize in San Francisco, where the public will be able to order Sally’s salads.

Sally’s current list price is $30,000; there will be an option to lease one for about $500 per month. Chowbotics will start delivering pre-orders of Sally in the third quarter.

Sekar hopes to see Sally installed soon in hotels, where business people check in late and room service is dreary, as well as at convention centers, airports, and gyms. Sally will be a key amenity for fast food chains such as McDonalds, exponentially expanding the array of fresh offerings. “If a location installs Sally, they’ll have a thousand kinds of salad, using fresh ingredients, while their kids are eating Big Macs and fries.” He noted that the ingredients are fresh and kept in refrigerated compartments—stored better than at many salad bars. And then there’s the millennial-oriented, ‘eat-o-tainment’ opportunity of watching a salad be assembled by a machine.

According to Sekar’s plans, Sally’s next incarnation will be as an instantaneous deliverer of ethnic foods—Chinese, Mexican, or Indian—possibly even breakfast, depending on the demand. Much farther down the line, Sekar envisions home versions of Sally. “Remember the first computers in the ‘60s were the size of a room. An affordable home food robot might not take decades to create, but it won’t be next year.”

Sekar built the first prototype of Sally in 2014. “ I’ve always believed that cooking is fun. But during the week, life is so rushed between work and family. When I looked at time I spent cooking, 85 percent was spent doing repetitive tasks, like chopping. I wanted to do something else with that time.” His first robot focused on prepping the Indian food that he and his wife cooked at home, such as spiced, fried cauliflower. The owner of more than a dozen McDonald’s in the San Jose area, Cosme Fagundo, was impressed enough to help Sekar bring it to market.

Chowbotics has $6.3 million in funding from such notable venture capital sources as Techstars and Foundry, the company behind Fitbit and 3D printers. “The machine I created for Indian cooking looked like a modified 3D printer,” noted Sekar. “But instead of plastic shapes, it was making food.” Now Rich Page is executive chairman at Chowbotics; Page built some of the first Macs at Apple, and worked with Steve Jobs at NeXT. “Sometimes he’ll look over my shoulder and say, ‘Steve made that same mistake 20 years ago, so I think I’m doing something right,” laughed Sekar.

He’s also brought in Google’s original chef, Charlie Ayers (employee No. 56) to be Chowbotics’s executive chef.

Ayers, who owns Calafia Café in Palo Alto, Calif., is a salad specialist who is also used to making food in mass quantities. (By the time he left Google, in 2006, Ayers was serving 4,000 lunches and dinners a day in 10 cafes across the Google campus.)

“A few of the things that I love about robots is that they don’t come in late, they don’t talk back, and they’re always accurate,” said Ayers over the phone. “And the labor savings.”

Ayers doesn’t lose sleep over the inevitable loss of kitchen jobs in Silicon Valley “I don’t feel like I’m betraying my brothers and sisters by replacing them,” he said, resolutely. “It’s happening in every industry now. You can either fight it, or be on the team that makes it happen.” He added: “People will find other things to do. Like fixing salad-making robots.”

At Google, Ayers said, he first entertained the idea of a food robot. “Engineers are notorious for never launching anything on time. They’d come down and see me in the kitchen, and I was always on time. They said, ‘Imagine what you could do with a robot.’” When Sekar approached him, he got on board.

Ayers and fellow former Google chef Kelly Olazar have since programmed a few specialty salads. These include:

  • Sally’s Salad (romaine with cherry tomatoes, cucumbers, carrots, walnuts, Parmesan, and black peppercorn ranch)
  • The Power Chow Salad (kale with cabbage, sun-dried cranberries, walnuts, and honey mustard vinaigrette)
  • The Silicon Valley Salad (seared chicken breast with kale, mixed bell peppers, olives, crunchy wonton chips, and honey mustard).

The few items you won’t find in a Sally-made salad include, curiously, avocado—one of California’s signature ingredients. “It doesn’t interact well with the machine,” explained Ayers, presumably because the soft flesh makes it hard to apportion via automation. Sliced cucumbers are missing, too, though Sally can dice them. Chopped salad is off the list. And though Sally is currently stocked with romaine, Parmesan, and croutons, there’s no Caesar salad dressing—yet. Sally’s ingredients will change periodically, so the team reported that Sally might soon be dispensing Caesar salads.

Source: Bloomberg

In Pictures: Robot Servers in Restaurants in China

Domino’s Pizza Delivery Robot is Hot and Autonomous

Lance Ulanoff wrote . . . . .

Domino’s, thy name is innovation.

Just months after announcing a pizza delivery truck with built-in heaters, the pizza purveyor is upping the ante with the world’s first pizza delivery robot.

The company’s Australian arm announced plans to deploy a Domino Robotic Unit (DRU). Essentially an autonomous vehicle, DRU can, according to Domino’s, follow a map, navigate sidewalks, avoid obstacles and keep your pizza hot and fresh while delivering it to your front door.

It will even come bearing cold drinks.

While this sounds like an elaborate marketing stunt, a Domino’s spokesperson confirmed to Mashable that the robot is real. While this sounds like an elaborate marketing stunt, a Domino’s spokesperson confirmed to Mashable that the robot is real.

“DRU is cheeky and endearing and we are confident that one day he will become an integral part of the Domino’s family. He’s a road to the future and one that we are very excited about exploring further,” said Domino’s Group CEO and Managing Director Don Meij in a release.

Domino’s reports it has been secretly testing the four-wheeled robot vehicle on the streets of Queensland, Australia, where it acquired the necessary permissions to operate the autonomous vehicle from the Queensland Department of Transport and Main Roads.

“The DRU prototype is only the first step in our research and development as we continue to develop a range of innovations set to revolutionize the entire pizza-ordering experience,” said Meij in the release.

DRU was built for Domino’s by Australian defense robot company Marathon Robotics, a firm which, up to now, has primarily built autonomous “moving targets” for defense and law enforcement to use in target practice. So if customers start shooting at DRU, it’s probably prepared.

In a brief release on its work for Domino’s, the company notes, “We remain committed to the defense and law enforcement market, and look forward to applying our technology and our near-decade of experience of robots operating in challenging real-world environments to new markets.”

While Domino’s hasn’t said where we’ll see DRU next (it would have to pass regulatory hurdles wherever it operates), Marathon Robotics reports it has unveiled the autonomous pizza truck in Australia, New Zealand, Belgium, France, the Netherlands, Japan and Germany.

Two big questions remain: When is it coming to one of the world’s biggest pizza markets, the U.S.A., and — more importantly — when a robot delivers your pizza, do you have to tip it?

Source: Mashable

Watch video at Facbook (1:05 minutes) . . . .

Robot Makes Sure Stores Don’t Run Out of Doritos

Will Knight wrote . . . . .

A shelf-scanning bot called Tally will help make sure everything is in its place in supermarkets and other retail outlets.

When customers can’t find a product on a shelf it’s an inconvenience. But by some estimates, it adds up to billions of dollars of lost revenue each year for retailers around the world.

A new shelf-scanning robot called Tally could help ensure that customers never leave a store empty-handed. It roams the aisles and automatically records which shelves need to be restocked.

The robot, developed by a startup called Simbe Robotics, is the latest effort to automate some of the more routine work done in millions of warehouses and retail stores. It is also an example of the way robots and AI will increasingly take over parts of people’s jobs rather than replacing them.

Restocking shelves is simple but hugely important for retailers. Billions of dollars may be lost each year because products are missing, misplaced, or poorly arranged, according to a report from the analyst firm IHL Services. In a large store it can take hundreds of hours to inspect shelves manually each week.

Brad Bogolea, CEO and cofounder of Simbe Robotics, says his company’s robot can scan the shelves of a small store, like a modest CVS or Walgreens, in about an hour. A very large retailer might need several robots to patrol its premises. He says the robot will be offered on a subscription basis but did not provide the pricing. Bogolea adds that one large retailer is already testing the machine.

Tally automatically roams a store, checking whether a shelf needs restocking; whether a product has been misplaced or poorly arranged; and whether the prices shown on shelves are correct. The robot consists of a wheeled platform with four cameras that scan the shelves on either side from the floor up to a height of eight feet.

Tally takes advantage of the fact that big stores already put together data showing the layout of shelves and the arrangement of products on those shelves.

It uses a map of the store to navigate, while the shelf layout, known as a retail planogram, is used to compare the actual shelves to the ideal. The data collected by the robot is transmitted to a server, where it is analyzed and turned into alerts for the retailer.

Two of three founders of Simbe Robotics were involved with Willow Garage, a research lab and incubator created by Scott Hassan, an entrepreneur who worked with the founders of Google on a precursor to their search engine, to develop advanced robotic hardware and software. Willow Garage spawned a number of robotics startups as well as the widely used Robot Operating System software.

Tally is just the latest example of robots creeping into new areas of work (see “Are You Ready for a Robot Colleague?”). A study published recently by the consulting firm McKinsey concludes that 46 percent of most work could be automated using emerging technologies.

Simbe Robotics plans to develop other robots for the retail space in the future. “Our primary vision is automating retail,” Bogolea says. “We think there’s a huge opportunity to automate mundane tasks, to free people up to focus on customer service.”

Manuela Veloso, a professor at Carnegie Mellon University who works with mobile robots, says Tally is a clever idea for a robot. “From a technical point of view, it’s challenging,” she says, although the problem is simplified in this case because all the products are arranged on shelves.

Joe Jones, a robotics researcher and entrepreneur who was involved with iRobot and Harvest Automation, is also impressed. But he says the biggest challenge for Simbe Robotics will be getting the system to work reliably in the real world. “In a real-world environment the robot may not behave as effectively as it does in the lab or even in a supportive beta test site,” he says.

Source: MIT Technology Review