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Cafe owner says robots appeal to diners, but not efficient waiters

Cafe owner says robots appeal to diners, but not efficient waiters

With a whir and a flash of lights, a robot whizzes to the restaurant table and takes a customer's order, while a second races to another table to deliver plates of steaming food.
This isn't a scene from a science fiction book. Rather, it's the daily routine at a new diner in a Hong Kong shopping center.
Robot Kitchen opened in July to cash in on the city's love affair with gadgets, claiming to be the world's first eatery staffed by machines.
"We thought robots would be a good gimmick," said Peter Chow, who built the automatons working at the diner. "Now they have caught on, we are having to upgrade and update them."
At the moment the diner has just two robots - Robo Waiter 1 and 2 - neither of which resemble the human-like robots one sees in the movies.
Robo Waiter 1, for instance, is a crudely designed box on wheels covered in shiny paper and with an illuminated bulb to represent a head.
The computer inside can recognize voice patterns, take meal orders and send them by infrared to the cooks in the kitchen. It is steered by a video camera, which detects objects in its way and guides the robot around them.
Robo Waiter 2 is much the same, but has a tray for carrying food.
A third robot, still in production, will be no more than an articulated electronic arm that can do simple manoeuvres such as flip burgers and prepare omelettes.
Due to the robots' limited abilities, the restaurant has had to hire extra staff to take up the slack and do the actual cooking.
"They definitely aren't labor-saving devices," said Chow. "In fact, we need more staff than normal to keep the machines going."
Chow makes no apologies for the machines' apparent lack of sophistication.
"Many people think robotics have come a long way - they have in research - but the commercially available robots are still pretty basic," he said.
Adding to the ambience, meals are given themed, if somewhat clumsy, names in the menu - a ham and pineapple pizza, for instance, is rechristened "Robot Energetic Pizza" - and the floor is strewn with toy robots that variously dance and sing or attack customers as they enter.
Former NASA robotics expert Mark Tilden said he admired anyone who tried to make a business out of robots, but warned the going would be tough.
"The problem is that there is a gulf between the technology and people's expectations," Tilden said.
"The technology is there to get robots to do very complicated tasks, but the problem is the people; they expect robots to do so much more than people can do.
"Whenever robots have been put to use in public places, they have been popular for as long as it takes for people to be bored by their narrow functions."


Updated : 2021-10-28 22:19 GMT+08:00