- June 21, 2017
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Robot Waiters and Digital Noses: The Latest Catering Machines
Robotics and automation are sweeping the globe with barely an industry untouched. For catering and hospitality—industries which will be heavily affected by the decision to slash weekend penalty rates—the advent of robot workers could be seen as a blessing or a curse.
As with many unpopular policies, the government has decided to roll out the penalty rate cuts slowly. A simple yet powerful strategy that gives people time to get used to the changes, making them less motivated to protest.
Barring any overturning of the policy, penalty rates will be gone by 2020. And by that time, the slow roll of robotics into catering and hospitality will have picked up its pace. Across the world, there’s already an entire hotel run by robots in Japan, and restaurants in China, Pakistan, America and the UK employing mechanical, tech-infused waiters.
These robot workers have been met with mixed reviews and their strange interactions with humans are not always appreciated. Last year, a restaurant in Guangzhou fired five of its six robot waiters for gross incompetence. Seriously. According to reports in Chinese media outlets (including the Shanghaiist and Worker’s Daily), the robots were incapable of pouring water, taking orders or carrying food. What they could do wasn’t made clear. But the restaurant did keep one of the little guys so it must’ve been useful for something.
While even the best robot waiters are still relatively awkward, for many, the novelty far outshines the weirdness and minor inconveniences.
While this android waitress certainly has a quirky sense of humour, Japanese capsule hotel manager, Akikazu Fukumoto, believes robots can never match a human’s emotional understanding:
“You have to be able to respond to the needs and thoughts of the customer. The spirit of hospitality requires human interaction.”
The other ways we’re using technology in catering
Tech development isn’t just focused on the kind of automation that takes human jobs. Much (if not most) of it is targeted at developing systems and tools to optimise work for humans, taking away the frustrating aspects of their jobs and adding further value to the fulfilling parts.
One such example of this value-adding technology is a newly-developed, digital device that takes the uncertainty out of detecting spoiled food. This ‘digital nose’ can sense the chemical markers that indicate whether a food is safe to eat. Its capabilities far outstrip those of our human senses and will allow users to prevent unnecessary food waste.
How the digital nose works
Developed by US startup C2Sense, the device senses the unique chemical signature of foods. As edibles like fruit and meat age, their chemical signature changes. Being able to sense and monitor these changes will give companies—and even individual householders—an unprecedented level of understanding of the best storage practices, while enabling timely transportation and consumption.
The sensors provide detailed data on:
- the presence of toxic gases;
- chemicals in feedstock;
- and air quality.
The company is currently focussed on food; however, their technology’s ability to sense chemicals and gases undetectable by other methods make it viable for use in a variety of industries including mining, energy and construction.
While they are currently being used as standalone devices, the company’s claim that they’re providing:
“a sense of smell for the digital world,”
carries overtones that perhaps, one day, these digital noses will find a home in the faces of humanoid robots. Undoubtedly accompanied by similar sensors, allowing machines to have an understanding of the world which, while based on our human abilities, will be far more advanced than we flesh-dwellers could ever imagine.