"The time has finally come when robots are going to be at our beck and call," Savioke's CEO, Steve Cousins, told me a couple years ago. "And for our robots in the hospitality industry we mean that quite literally."
Savioke makes Relay, a 3-feet tall robot that weighs less than 100 pounds and is designed to travel at human walking pace as it makes deliveries to hotel guests. It can even call the elevator via Wi-Fi to navigate between floors.
No palm greasing is required during deliveries ... but I'm guessing it does need some oil now and then.
This robot can serve up 120 cups of coffee per hour and rarely spills. At $25,000, it costs about as much as a typical barista's yearly salary, which makes it an attractive alternative for proprietors.
That's the pitch from Cafe X Technologies, a Thiel Foundation-backed startup that's taking dead aim at the low wage barista labor force. The Cafe X robot's six-axis arm interfaces with an automated kiosk, meaning customers get artisan coffee drinks without the usual bleary-eyed chitchat.
So far the full cafe exists only as a prototype. But with $5 million in backing from Khosla Ventures and others, it's likely we'll be seeing more machines pulling espresso soon.
Domino's has an autonomous delivery vehicle now serving up door-to-door pies in Hamburg, Germany.
The Domino's Robotic Unit (DRU) is an AI-assisted platform that traverses city streets and sidewalks to deliver last-mile pies to the hungry masses. It weighs 190 kg and can travel at an upper limit of 20 kilometers per hour.
It also relies on Google Maps data, because, honestly, who would trust their order to Apple?
Customers access hot and cold food by inputing a code they receive when delivery is nigh, which opens the hatch.
There are some regulatory hitches to work out (not everyone is so keen to share sidewalks with a pizza robot), but the technology is convincing enough for Domino's to invest heavily in development and real-world trials.
Flippy, the burger-flipping robot by Miso Robotics, scored a coup in 2017 when it debuted at a Pasadena CaliBurger, a trendy fast-food chain in tech-obsessed California. CaliBurger also preordered dozens of units for additional restaurants under a short-term exclusive contract.
The automaton is essentially a lightweight industrial robotic arm with a spatula for an end effector and some complex machine vision capabilities. Right now the robot is merely flipping burgers.
But Flippy's AI allows it to learn over time, enabling it to adjust cooking duration to ensure a perfect finish.
Eventually, CaliBurger plans to use the robots, which cost about $60,000 per unit, to do things like toast buns and grill onions.
One of the bots, the K7, is ten feet long and can patrol difficult terrain, such as gravel and dirt.
Another, the K1, is a stationary unit capable of detecting concealed weapons and other metal objects using millimeter-wave sensors, which could be useful in airports and other high-traffic areas.
Other companies, like Cobalt, are making security bots that look like elegant furniture, a good fit for white glove office buildings.
Airports and commercial spaces seem ready to embrace the technology. And the days of the mall cop may be soon be numbered, as well.
Even this standby summer gig isn't safe in the age of automation.
Nicknamed EMILY, the rugged, remote-controlled robot lifeguard was developed by the U.S. Navy.
At four feet long and 25 pounds, the so-called Emergency Integrated Lifesaving Lanyard is essentially a self-propelled life jacket with a 200 yard tow line. EMILY costs about $10K and can brave undertows and risky rescues that would put human lifesavers in harm's way.
It's already proven itself a valuable tool for maritime rescue when, in 2016, it helped save the lives of hundreds of Syrian refugees after their ship capsized off the Greek island of Lesbos.
This one looks like the first teen job to go.
A USA Technologies Kiosks and Retail report recently predicted the U.S. interactive kiosk industry will be worth more than $1 billion by 2020.
And Research and Markets recently declared "the meteoric rise of unattended retail." Taking into account the overall sector, which includes things like electric charging kiosks and those increasingly sophisticated vending machines that dispense a widening array of products and foods (salad ... really?), the firm predicts a $34 billion automated kiosk market by 2023.
All of which adds up to a future of quicker checkout for customers -- and the loss of a human touch in brick and mortar stores.
Her name is ChihiraAico, and she's built to serve.
Toshiba unveiled its realistic humanoid host at CES a few years back, and the reactions were definitely mixed. Some found the robot, which can sing and interact with patrons like a real host, charming. Others found the ultra-realistic humanoid downright creepy.
With other robot hosts, like SoftBank's Pepper, already on the market, a growing number of restaurants and retail establishments are experimenting with automating their front of house workforce.
Of course, Pepper may still need some customer service training. It was recently fired for alienating customers at a family-run grocery chain in Scotland.
Let's call that a win for the teens.
Robot lawnmowers are already popular in Europe, but a robotic weeder might be the golden ticket to break into the U.S. market.
Tertill is a small, cylindrical robot that looks and functions a lot like the Roomba. That's no coincidence. Tertill's creator, Joe Jones, invented Roomba, the vacuum bot that made iRobot the biggest home robotics company in the world.
Tertill autonomously roams gardens, bouncing off objects or following their contours, and hacks down weeds via a small spinning whacker under its cambered all-terrain wheels.
Instead of sensing weeds, a sensor at the front of Tertill's body simply senses contact with objects that are tall enough to bump into. The idea is that plants you want to keep are tall while weeds are short.
Seedlings can be protected from Tertill's whacker via a wire collar that can be pushed into the soil around them. The robot will bump into the collar and redirect.
Sorry Billy ... no allowance this week.
Sweet were the days when your buddy could sneak a fresh made pizza out the back door.
A pizzeria called Zume (er ... maybe it's actually a robotics startup?) is making sure that will never happen again by using industrial automation to make pizzas in its Mountain View restaurant.
Nearly every stage of the process is automated. The pizzas even finish baking en route to customers' homes.
The result is a highly-controlled process that, using AI and big data, allows the company to order exactly the right quantity of ingredients and to predict ordering trends ahead of time.
So far, Zume has raised nearly $50 million in venture funding, perhaps paving the way for autonomous pie throwers everywhere.
Even Little Caesars recently took out a patent for a machine that makes pizza.
Okay, this one is a bit of a stretch.
But one day it won't be. In the future, dogs may walk themselves.
At least if Sony, which recently rebooted its popular Aibo pooch bot, has anything to say about it.
Sony's new-and-improved Aibo, a rebooted version of the original (which debuted way back in 1999), is a lot like a cuter, more mobile version of tabletop desktop assistants like Amazon's Alexa. In addition to its playful romping, it can control smart devices, respond to queries, and fetch answers from the internet.
At $3000, it's an expensive fake pet. But the concept behind adopting a machine as a companion has proven surprisingly durable. Watch out, Fido.