Canberra cafe uses robotic technology to deliver food and drinks to tables


Canberra cafe owner Sam Vekiriya has welcomed an autonomous robot waiter to his team after months of desperately looking for new staff.

The robot delivers food and drinks to tables and puts dirty dishes back in the kitchen when they’re done, and patiently stops when customers come over.

After renting the robot for a trial period, he said he would buy it for an initial cost of about $30,000.

He said it was well worth the investment.

“It’s worth the price…for the customer prospects they get faster service. You can use your staff to focus only on customer service instead of clearing tables.”

Mr Vekiriya said the decision to buy a robot worker was fueled by ongoing staff shortages, adding that the novelty factor was a nice bonus.

“We’ve been looking for staff for a year and a half, and really bad, desperate for staff for the past three months, which is really impossible to find right now,” he said.

“Everyone is very grateful, it’s good to have [the robot] for fun and entertainment, and then less burden on the staff, they understand that, everyone really supports that.”

A man in a black shirt with black hair and a goatee smiles for the camera
The cafe owner embraces using the robot to complete tasks, but says he won’t take over anyone’s jobs.ABC News: Donal Sheil

But he added that the latest hire was not going to take over anyone’s job anytime soon.

Are robot waiters really that revolutionary?

The deployment of robotic workers in the hospitality industry is just the tip of the automation iceberg.

Andrew Aston is the director of Melbourne-based robotics consultancy Quantum Robotics.

The company implements a large number of automated robots for use in warehouses, inventory, retail and hospitality businesses.

These machines range from forklifts, palletizing arms and commercial cleaning robots to smaller catering and retail assistants.

He said it was unlikely that the use of catering robots would reduce the need for human staff, despite their apparent novelty.

A white robot in a cafe in Canberra
Quantum robots say the robot has a novelty factor, Aston said.ABC News: Donal Sheil

“Do they really offer an opportunity to reduce your workforce? Probably not,” he said.

“So the return on investment that companies typically look for isn’t there, but as a marketing tool they’ve certainly been very popular.”

Where robots are experiencing much greater growth is in what Mr. Aston calls “the three Ds.”

“Boring work that is repetitive or routine with low productivity, robotics implementation has been accelerated by the back of COVID, and it continues now that [COVID has] sort of gone, it’s still booming.”

The International Federation of Robots 2021 Service Robots report finds that the pandemic has boosted the uptake of robotic workers most in the transportation and logistics industry, followed by the cleaning and medical support industries.

The same report found that sales of hospitality robots did not increase significantly over the same period, likely due to business shutdowns in the early days of the pandemic.

What do unions say about it?

Sally McManus asked Setka to resign for the good of the union movement
ACTU secretary Sally McManus says the changes are welcome if they create safer workplaces. News video

The emerging wave of automation is nothing new to the unions that represent millions of Australian workers.

The Australian Council of Trade Unions represents approximately 1.8 million Australian workers.

Secretary Sally McManus said in a statement to the ABC that automation in many workplaces is far from a new phenomenon, but that robots would only be welcome in the workplace as a mechanism to improve the quality of life and safety of workers.

“It is critical that working people be at the center of how automation is rolled out across workplaces and industries, to ensure that automation creates safer workplaces and strengthens the rights, wages and conditions of working people, rather than them. to undermine.”

In a statement to the ABC, Andrew Dettmer, president of the Australian Manufacturing Workers Association, added that robots have been part of Australian manufacturing for decades and that robots would be adopted in more workplaces as long as people come first.

“Putting workers at the center of increasing technological advancement allows us to create large-scale employment in highly skilled, high-paying jobs, where workers have a high degree of autonomy over the work they perform,” he said.