From Robot Waiters to Fully Autonomous Restaurants, the Future of Food Is Here and Thriving

In today's fast-paced world, the restaurant industry has seen a significant uptick in demand for quick, efficient service. As a result, restaurant owners are turning to automation and robotics to meet these growing needs. This is where startups like Blendid and Bear Robotics Inc. with its flagship product, Penny, come into play.

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Blendid’s Fully Autonomous Fresh-Food Kiosks

McDonald’s Corp made headlines for its Texas-based fully autonomous store. It’s the same size as a normal store, but you order on their app and a robot hands you the food. Blendid takes this same concept but on a much smaller scale. Rather, their current flagship product is a robotic kiosk that makes smoothies and other fresh foods completely autonomously, using a robot arm.

Customers can pay in person or on their app. Then once they arrive, watch a robot arm make their smoothie right there in front of them and deliver it. Blendid is much more than just a concept. Along with partnering with some of the biggest brands in the world, the company has already sold over 100,000 smoothies. With several kiosks throughout travel centers, universities, retail stores and hospitals throughout the U.S, Blendid has seen significant traction. In 2022 alone, they cleared $1 million in revenue.

This has caught investors' attention as well, as the company has already raised over $8 million from retail investors and $26 million total. The company is currently raising on StartEngine, which means anyone can invest for a limited time, and already raised over $300,000 in its current round. 

.With over a dozen patents pending or granted to protect the machine and triple-digit year-over-year growth, Blendid has been taking the food industry by storm.

Bear Robotics Robot Waiter

Bear Robotics is a California-based company focused on developing autonomous robots for the food industry. Founded in 2017, the company aims to create robots that can assist restaurant workers in performing their duties. Bear Robotics believes that robots can help solve the labor shortage facing restaurants by reducing their employees’ workload while increasing customer service levels.

The name Bear comes from the company's Co-Founders John Ha and Juan Higueros' experiences. Both founders were born in Korea and raised in California. They learned about "beary" hospitality from their grandparents who owned and operated a bakery in Korea. In Korean culture, the term beary means providing warm and welcoming hospitality to guests. This philosophy drove them to create a company that could assist restaurants in providing great customer service.

Bear Robotics created Penny to solve the restaurant industry’s labor shortage. Penny is an autonomous robot that can take food orders, deliver food and bus tables. Penny has a sleek design with a tablet-like interface for customers to place orders. Once an order is placed, the robot navigates to the kitchen, picks up the food and delivers it to the designated table via onboard light-detection and ranging (Lidar) sensors. When customers are finished with their meals, the robot collects used utensils and plates and returns them to the kitchen.

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Penny combines cutting-edge technologies that make it versatile and reliable. The robot uses artificial intelligence, machine learning and natural language processing to interact with customers and staff. This includes language understanding, image recognition and motion-planning techniques, which allow the robot to navigate through the restaurant efficiently. The robot's sensors enable it to navigate its environment while avoiding obstacles to accomplish its tasks efficiently.

The Penny robot is significantly cheaper than hiring additional employees, and it can work 24/7. Robots like Penny save restaurant owners money in the long run. Bear Robotics has piloted Penny in several restaurants and found that the robot increases efficiency and customer satisfaction. Penny's friendly appearance has helped increase customer engagement and loyalty.

Bear Robotics plans to expand Penny's capabilities by adding features like payments and loyalty programs. In addition, Bear Robotics aims to create more complex robots that can perform more tasks to increase restaurants’ efficiency. The robots could help establishments comply with public health guidelines by ensuring contact-free interactions, reducing the risk of transmitting viruses.

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Labor Shortage & Robots

The COVID-19 pandemic greatly impacted the restaurant industry, causing many establishments to close. But the pandemic has also created an opportunity for companies like Blendid and Bear Robotics to introduce their products to the market. Penny was initially developed as a response to the labor shortage in the industry but has found additional value as a tool to help restaurants navigate challenges during the pandemic. Blendid was founded out of a passion for having healthy food options on the go. 

While Bear Robotics and Blendid may seem like a novelty, they represent a significant shift in the industry's adoption of technology to address labor shortages and increasing demands for efficiency. The company has gained recognition from international organizations and some of the largest companies in the world. Bear Robotics got recognition from the World Economic Forum, where it was named as a Technology Pioneer in 2021. And Blendid has a number of recognizable names as investors and partners.

The concept of automation and robots in the food industry is still evolving. It remains uncertain whether robots can replace human staff entirely, but they can help decrease their workload and enhance customers' experience. Human involvement remains an integral part of the experience, while robots aid in creating an optimal customer experience.

Bear Robotics and Blendid are solid examples of how technology can be designed to cater to the needs of the food-service industry. With cutting-edge technology, these startups signify the rise of the new age of robotics in the food industry. Looking toward the future, advancements in robotics technology can only continue to expand the possibilities of what robots can accomplish. 

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