Robo pal for diners

money-glitz | Jimmy Ding 3 Sep 2018

Chinese companies' investment in robots and artificial intelligence could pay back in the long-term specially through their use in the service sector.

In Hong Kong, robots are already working in restaurants delivering food and drinks. This is exactly what is visible in Zither Garden, a Chinese restaurant in Hong Kong.

Robotou is a service robot operating platform company in Shenzhen. It has a blockchain-enabled service robot ecosystem. The company helps the services sector businesses to source robotic solutions.

Charles Tang, chief operating officer of Robotou says: "we provide a platform for different robots to find jobs. In other words, we match robot-producing companies with clients."

A catering service robot created by Higgs Dynamics is now working in Zither Garden, owned by Zither Food & Beverage.

The service catering robot can only carry dishes from the kitchen to the tables and diners still need to pick up dishes from the robot's tray. The robot is not able to wash dishes or take customers' orders.

Karen Au, chief executive of Zither Food & Beverage says children interact eagerly with the robot and it attracts diners.

"Many customers are taking pictures with this new waiter in our restaurant," says Au.

"There is a lack of labor in the services sector in Hong Kong as the younger generation is unwilling to work in the industry. Through Robotou, now we are able to offer a more innovative and fresher customer experience in the restaurant because of the attention brought on by the robots."

Zhang Mingju, chief executive of Higgs Dynamics says the service catering robot has just been adopted in three restaurants in Beijing and the reaction is positive."Although the robots are invented for solving the labor shortage, it seems the main function is attracting customers."

Zhang says the restaurant will not lay off any staff since the robots cannot fully replace the waiters at this stage, but the company will focus on inventing robots which can reduce the workload. Zhang says the company has already got several hundred orders by using the Robotou platform.

The service catering robot can be leased for a few thousand Hong Kong dollars per month. The company would not disclose the cost of the robot, though. Each service catering robot is expected to be able to work for three years.

When asked whether the company, as an agent between robot producers and users will be squeezed out of the market, Tang says customers who ordered one or two robots may need to pay a much higher price and the goal of Robotou is to bring affordable service robotics to everyone's daily life.

"It is tough for robot producing companies to sell their products directly since the distribution fees are very high and even higher than the cost," Tang says.

"The value of Robotou is not a passthrough entity but a marketplace to bring business demand and roboticist together. Using the latest blockchain technologies, we provide many value-added services such as robot customization service, data monetization, financing, intellectual property licensing of the robot, advertising, and insurance which are all in our development roadmap."

Robotou is expected to have 100,000 robots in the next five years, it will be able to serve 30,000 partners out of the estimated total 10 million users.

Tang says that in the short-term, there will be some robots delivering drinks and food in casinos since they are suitable for repetitive and labor-intensive work.

Tang sees great potential in the market for robots. "By deploying 100,000 robots, we can save 840 million manpower hours per year which is equal to around US$3.7 billion (HK$29.04 billion)."

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