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Robots: The Expensive Way to Prepare Cheap Food

Watch out! Minimum wage unskilled workers, there robots out there to get your low paid jobs! I wonder what will the supporters of the minimum wage say; Be a Luddite and ban robots from fast food to protect the livelihood of unskilled workers?

Steven Cherry – Tue, August 04, 2009 – IEEE Spectrum

If you’ve ever watched the giant container loaders in Elizabeth N.J. or Yokohama Harbor, you’ve probably wondered if the same robotic technologies could be used to make ramen soup.

Okay, maybe you never have, but someone seems to—Kenji Nagoya, said to be an industrial robot manufacturer and owner of a new fast-food restaurant where bowls of ramen in pork broth are prepared almost entirely by a pair of robots that look, to me at least, a bit like the container loaders I see from the New Jersey Turnpike.

In a widely copied Reuters video report, Nagoya says, “The benefits of using robots as ramen chefs include the accuracy of timing in boiling noodles, precise movements in adding toppings and consistency in the taste.”

The robots are reported to be able to make only 80 bowls a day (though the automated process, which includes heating but not making the broth, is said to take less than 2 minutes). They sell for $7 apiece. That gives the shop a total daily revenue of $560, which has to cover the cost of the ingredients, electricity, rent, and some humans make the broth, serve customers, take their money, and so on. And the robots themselves of course.

The shop therefore doesn’t make a profit for Nagoya, but it’s a great proof of concept and might someday lead to restaurant robots inexpensive enough to replace all those inprecise high school students currently preparing our fast food.

There’s an additional video of the Nagoya ramen robots here.

The Nagoya robot story has completely overshadowed a robot “somewhere in Yamanashi” Japan that also helps make ramen soup. Restauranteur Yoshihira Uchida, for whom the robot was created, had the exact opposite strategy of having the robot custom-prepare the broth with “40 million recipes”—combinations of broth ingredients—while a human chef makes the noodles.

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