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Robot waiters serve at Alibaba’s Shanghai restaurant

robot.he alibaba restaurant robot waiter

Seafood restaurant Robot.He in Alibaba’s Hema supermarket uses a combination of automated bot services guided by QR codes to provide a predominantly human-free dining experience.

Service in Alibaba’s new Robot.He seafood restaurant is powered by a number of automated functions.  Conveyor belts, robotic arms and mobile carts deal with nearly all the usual ‘legwork’ of waiting staff.  Seating, ordering and payment is carried out via the Hema app and everything is controlled by software that reads customer-inputted QR codes.

The experience isn’t totally human-less.  When diners arrive they are still greeted by a real person.  Humans also assist and cook the food.

Customers use a kiosk to check in and pick their table, scanning the QR code on their phone to let the system know where they’ll be sitting.  They then walk around the supermarket and pick out their choice of fresh seafood.  Their QR code is scanned again at the checkout.  The food is bagged and attached to a conveyor belt where a robotic arm transfers it to a fridge to stay cool until the food is ready to be prepared.  Meanwhile, the customers go to their chosen table.  Here they can pick out extra dishes from a menu on the app.

The food is cooked by human chefs and then placed on robot carts which transport the food to the customer’s table.  A pod opens up for customers to retrieve their meals.

Alibaba says the aim is to take out the labour costs of waiting services, making the restaurant more cost-efficient.  They also believe the robot-restaurant is a fascinating dining experience in itself.

The rise of robot experiences

It’s not the first time a restaurant has used robots.  At Korean restaurant Kang Nam Tofu House in Milpitas, California, robots help human servers.

“Our goal is to automate the hard part of [restaurant] work, so employees focus more on customer service,” says John Ha, owner of the restaurant and co-founder of Bear Robotics, the startup that designed the robot.

However, Alibaba’s restaurant takes the automated service much further.  We’re likely to see far more robots appearing in the industry.  As Blooloop reported last month, HIS Holdings is set to have 100 robot hotels by 2021.  There are already six Henn na hotels in which the bulk of the reception, cleaning and portering duties are conducted by robots.

Disney is also researching robots and recently released a video of stunt robots or stuntronics.

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