Burgers, salads and tea - What's next for robots in retail

In the world of food service it seems no food category will escape the inevitable march of robotic technology. Particularly relevant for repetitive tasks that don't require a lot of training or skills, or those that can benefit from precision or personalisation, robots that create the perfect burger, tea and even salad bowl have already been successfully developed and launched as solutions to industry and customer needs at a truly extraordinary rate. In this article, we discuss the most exciting ideas we see emerging.

Tailor-Made Tea

Based on the insight that "many tea drinkers love the idea of making their own blends but find it too tedious, expensive, or risky to do this at home" - TeaBot has been designed to allow convenience customers complete control and customisation of their tea blend and temperature - made to order in under 30 seconds! First developed almost five years ago in the Creative Destruction Lab in Canada, a country where people actually drink more tea than coffee, nonetheless the robot has also been introduced in coffee-loving cities in the US like Palo Alto and Chicago. Even Europe is finally enjoying the robot experience, with Valora Group which operates over 2,800 small format stores beginning the rollout in the hugely popular K Kiosks in Switzerland. Valora described the TeaBot as "the biggest innovation for grab-and-go tea since the tea bag", with ten locations expected to be live in major Swiss train stations by the end of November.

The TeaBot is designed for customised grab and go tea

Sally the Salad Robot

An even more complex food service challenge has been taken on by the team in Chowbotics - who focus on creating custom salad meals to order, with over 1,000 combinations possible through its selection of twenty-two ingredients. Again focusing on speed with custom salads delivered in under a minute, the concept also emphasises the idea of nutritious meals and snacks now available 24/7, delivered hygienically from its temperature-controlled units.

With its unique technology, the company is continually evolving its solution and raising the finance to offer new meal types such as breakfast bowls, poke bowls and acai bowls.

Some of the unique selling points that are likely to appeal to consumers using this approach include the detailed information provided such as the calorie count and origin of the ingredients, as well as the increased hygiene claimed as a result of the reduced contact by people preparing the meal. While these issues have not affected the industry's development to date, there is no doubt that consumers are increasingly concerned about food quality they consume - so Sally the Salad Robot is likely to resonate as one solution to these growing concerns.

Watch Sally the Salad Robot in Action

Even Burgers?

Perhaps the most complex creation has results from the "healthy amount of obsession, experimentation and love" that has gone into the Creator burger - a restaurant creating "a whole new kind of hamburger, one thatís never existed before."

Using a clever combination of sensors, actuators, computers and algorithms, the burger making bot has been developed by an experienced burger-cook-turned-engineer to create the robot version of his younger self. The robot also uses artificial intelligence and custom software to manage the sophisticated timing needed to prepare, cook, assemble and serve the perfect customised burger using gourmet ingredients and techniques for just $6.

It has taken over eight years to develop what its creators have described as "one of the most precise culinary tools on earth" from a company with a vision to create "a more utopian world of dining". This is combined with input from some well-known Bay Area chefs to create what Bloomberg described as the "freshest burger on earth" - cooked to order and ready to eat in just under five minutes! For such a huge industry, it's not surprising to learn that Google Ventures, Khosla Ventures, and Root Ventures are investors, with over $18 million of funding secured for the company's ambitious plans. To date, the restaurant is focused on just four burger recipes, but promises a customer app is coming soon - bringing customisation control that it's founder Alex Vardakostas describes as "extreme personalization".

The restaurant in San Francisco opened in June this year, and attending its "events" is still only possible by buying a prepaid voucher for its events, resulting in waitlists for journalists and customers alike. The entire experience sounds like a truly revolutionary idea, backed by a sense of integrity and suggests a fantastic fun and service-focused experience.

Watch the Creator Burger Robot in Action

A Truly Exciting Future:

There is no doubt that robotic technology is bringing incredible benefits to both businesses and consumers in the food service industry. We'll continue to research the latest exciting ideas in the knowledge that innovation that delivers so many real benefits will inevitably be coming to a convenience store or restaurant near us all soon.

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Paula ThomasPaula Thomas LinkedIn

She advises on loyalty strategy, propositions and rewards concepts globally. Her blue-chip portfolio of clients to date includes Telefonica O2 (Priority Moments programme), Electric Ireland, Allied Irish Bank, Avios and The Entertainer Group. Paula is now also Chief Content Officer for Liquid Barcodes- reviewing global loyalty best practice, CEO perspectives on loyalty and innovative ways to drive engagement to achieve live loyalty in the convenience sector. Paula holds an MBA from Smurfit Business School in Ireland and also sits on the judging panel for the global Loyalty Magazine Awards.

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