We may think of robotic waitstaff as something that belongs to the future, but the truth is that robots have been serving people at restaurants since the 1980s. How well have these robot servers worked out? Here is a brief history of robot waiters over the last 30 years.
Tanbo R-1 and Tambo R-2, two robots built in Japan, used in Two Panda Deli, a Chinese fast-food restaurant in Pasadena, California, between 1983 and 1986. If there weren’t any police radios operating nearby (the robots spun in circles and dropped food when any of them were nearby), R-1 and R-2 could deliver food and be nice in three languages (English, Japanese and Spanish). After three years of work both of them were sold to a restaurant in Modesto, where their career ended few months later.
Ken, a robot waiter, moves at a snail’s pace to deliver a bottle of wine and glasses to customers’ table at a restaurant in Tokyo on Nov. 24, 1985. The four-foot tall Ken, a prototype for a new type of robot to be used in ships and restaurants, is actually operated by Mitsugu Watarai, left, manager of the restaurant. He can’t take order or open a wine bottle to serve, but now is a well-known waiter in Roppongi, Tokyo’s nightlife district. The manager says some people come in and order a cup of coffee or tea just to see the robot.
(Photo by AP/Tsugufumi Matsumoto)
The Suzumo Sushi Robot at the National Restaurant Association convention in Chicago, May 18, 1987. It was capable of rolling the rice ball for sushi dishes, while the attendant placed the fish filets on top.
(Photo by AP/Mark Elias)
Tiny drones named iTrays, operated by iPads in Yo! Burger and Yo! Sushi, a British restaurant chain, tested in 2013
Ever-smiling robotic waiters in a café, Ningbo, China, 2014. Each of them cost about $9,000 and can speak 40 phrases in Mandarin Chinese, such as ‘enjoy your meal’.