22 February 2019

I, Robot, am at your service

It’s not exactly the Creature Cantina of Star Wars fame, but a Harbin restaurant is attracting a lot of local attention for its robotic approach to service.

About a dozen crayon-colored, child-size robots shuttle food to diners along preset routes at a restaurant in downtown Harbin. Out back in the kitchen, staff feed sliced and diced ingredients into washing machine-like robots to cook up a daily storm.

The gimmick is a hit with diners looking for a different eat-out experience. But the mechanization is more than just a stunt. Amid rising wages and rent in China, bots make a lot of sense when it comes to cutting operating costs. It helps in this case that the restaurant owner also runs a machinery business, and the robot café is the result of a crossover project.

Top developer China Vanke shares the restaurant’s robotics strategy. It has enlisted bots to do the bulk of the work at kitchen canteens in various properties under Vanke management, with the automatons proving far more efficient at producing a large number of servings during peak hours.

Foxconn, too, is thinking along these lines. After relocating some of its plants inland from coastal areas, the assembler of Apple gadgets has had labor pains in disputes over pay and conditions. Shoemaker Yue Yuen (00551.HK), contract manufacturer for Adidas and Nike, is in the midst of similar problems, with thousands of striking workers demanding better wages and benefits.

Foxconn is reportedly cooking up something big with Google in robotics research in hopes of a long-term solution. The expanding robotics market in China indicates many entrepreneurs are having the same thoughts.

Be it manufacturing or the service industry, bots look set to play a bigger role in China’s economic future.

– Contact HKEJ at [email protected]


EJ Insight writer

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