Bear Robotics is set to attend next month’s NRA Show in Chicago to market a front-of-house food running robot optimized for kitchen-to-table delivery.
The robot – named ‘Penny’ – was created to help food service operators create more efficient and sustainable businesses.
Bear Robotics co-founder John Ha started the business two years year after leaving Google to open Kang Nam Tofu House, a Korean restaurant in Milpitas, CA.
As the owner, Ha experienced the challenges faced by any restaurateur, like difficulties hiring, training, and retaining staff. He also often stepped in to do physical, laborious tasks on the floor, like dishwashing, bussing, and serving.
“Imagine walking or running five to seven miles a day juggling multiple trays of food and drinks in a narrow and crowded environment,” Ha said. “A light bulb finally flashed over me when I was knee-deep in this. I said to myself, ‘There has got to be a better way to run these establishments. Why not automate it?’”
Penny, the food running robot, is meant to work alongside human servers to enhance the customer experience.
With Penny, a server spends less time shuttling food back and forth from the kitchen and can spend more time with customers.
During an eight-month study at Ha’s restaurant in Milpitas, when servers collaborated with Penny, they saw an 18% increase in tips and a 28% increase in total sales.
Bear Robotics’ goal is to address the increased pressure faced by the food service and hospitality industry around labor management and service quality.
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, restaurants have a 1.5 times higher turnover than the average private sector business. This is typically because restaurants have several seasonal and entry-level employees.
With Penny, food service establishments get to automate laborious tasks with a permanent employee that works alongside existing human servers.
Penny is optimized for safe navigation in a crowded environment. The AI-enabled robot draws a map of the restaurant and always finds a safe route depending on where humans or other obstacles are.
With Penny, a human server is there to load plates on and off of the robot. And when dishes are removed from Penny’s tray, the robot immediately knows to return to the kitchen. By using Penny to run plates, servers are able to stay closer to the customer and provide a better dining experience.
“Our view is that the future of the food service industry will leverage robotics and artificial intelligence to perform basic tasks alongside human workers,” Ha said. “This should free up human workers to create value for restaurants in new ways.”
A second version of Penny has also been worked on, which can carry up to three trays for increased capacity and a variety of tray shapes, including a food tray, a drink tray, and bussing tubs for stacking plates.
It will also have improved wheel suspension hardware for enhanced driving stability on uneven floors or thresholds.