Robots/Covid-19: Automation Rations

Pandemic may spur greater use of robotics in food industry to cater for virus-wary customers

They never tire, they never complain and most importantly they never get sick. The pandemic has ramped up impetus for greater automation in the service industry. More than 350,000 robots are estimated to have been sold to the sector last year, say the International Federation of Robotics (IFR). Expect sales figures to jump in 2020.

Automated production lines in food could be one of the biggest changes as countries emerge from lockdown. Replacements already exist. “Flippy” from Miso Robotics can cook burgers, chicken and fries. The company hopes its product will generate long-term subscriptions from restaurants. China’s PuduTech has made BellaBot, a food-ferrying robot cat that can replace waiting staff. Others mix cocktails or carry luggage.

Robots have been replacing and assisting workers in industrial processes for years. Rising volumes have cut costs. In greatest demand are logistics robots, with 176,000 sold last year. Warehouse picking and packing tasks are easy to automate and relatively inexpensive at just $33,000 per unit last year, according to IFR data. More technical jobs, such as hospital robots able to assist in surgeries, are at the opposite end of the spectrum. Costs exceed $500,000 per unit on average. Yet even these are falling. Prices are expected to decline about 5 percent each year for the next few years.

For now, robots that cook or serve food are still gimmicks. As economies start to reopen, they may gain a bigger foothold. The human touch has traditionally been considered key to good dining experiences. Coronavirus-wary customers could change that for good


Reference: Financial Times