A popular Chinese Hot Pot restaurant chain is going ‘smart'. That is, humans have left the building, and a completely autonomous robotic system has taken over the kitchen.
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No humans are involved in the food preparation anymore at one of the chain's restaurants in Beijing; instead, robotic arms gather and prepare ingredients for the chain's popular dishes. Not only the system can cook, but it also tracks all ingredients so that little wastage and any food is nearing its best before date to be disposed of.
Hot Pot is the perfect automation dish
Haidilao is famous for its Szechuan style hot pot. A dish comprised of a flavourful soup into which raw meat and vegetables are dipped to be cooked.
Eating hot pot is often a communal experience especially enjoyed the cooler months. Haidilao has gained a reputation for tremendously good service, even going as far as offering stuffed toys to solo dining customers to keep them company.
Panasonic delivers full system
We’ve seen robots in the kitchen before, mostly with disastrous results like Flippy the hamburger making robot that was fired after just one day. But the Haidilao example seems different.
The restaurant teamed up with tech giant, Panasonic to create the robotic kitchen and so far it's working. Once the food is prepared by the AI-driven kitchen, it's rushed to the tables by six-waiting robots.
Human staff always necessary
Humans haven’t completely disappeared though. While the kitchen is autonomous, more than 150 staff still roam the giant restaurant helping customers order food on the at tables iPads as well as deliver the steaming bowls of soup base and piled high plates of raw meat.
Though the restaurant hopes the numbers of humans needed to run the place will continue to drop. “Ideally, we will bring down the staff size to about 130 to 140 per restaurant from the current 170 level,” Haidilao chief information officer Shao Zhidong told the South China Morning Post.
“But it would never be possible for a restaurant to go unstaffed … It is said that dining is a combination of two: before the dish comes to table, it's logistics; but after that, it's called service.”
The robotic chefs are able to create individual requests, and they’ll even store your preferred soup base mix in the cloud for quick and easy ordering next time. Patrons of the restaurant can check in on the kitchen by turning to the large screens around the room that show the robots hard at work.
Restaurant projects clean and efficient image
Not only is it a fascinating performance, but the pristine workspace also proves to diners that rumors of rats inside some of their restaurants' kitchens were false. The restaurant hopes to roll out the smart features of this test restaurant to other locations soon.
The company believes the automation will save the test restaurant about 10 percent on electricity consumption. Most of this saving comes from the smart feature detecting the weight of the hotpot that automatically turns the heat up or down.
Each of Haidilao's Beijing restaurants has to spend about 200,000 yuan or $30,000 in electricity bills each month, so a 10% saving is going to increase the restaurant's cash flow significantly. While many of the features are still in a test mode, new smart Haidilao's are expected to open in Beijing soon.