The rise of food-making robots | February 26, 2021 | Palo Alto Weekly | Palo Alto Online |

Palo Alto Weekly

Eating Out - February 26, 2021

The rise of food-making robots

Here are four local companies betting on automation and robotics for the future of food

Botrista, Redwood City: Botrista's DrinkBot can make custom drinks in seconds using 12 nozzles that process liquid ingredients, mixed at a ratio that's preset in a recipe and then dispensed into a cup. The drink is blended using patented technology that mimics the motion of a bartender shaking a cocktail. The company's founders believe that automating drinks will bring in additional revenue to restaurants, which would no longer need to hire or pay for a human bartender or barista. Botrista's robot is in restaurants in San Francisco, Los Angeles, Seattle and Taiwan, and the company has ambitious plans to add 300 more locations nationwide by the end of the year.

Chowbotics, Redwood City: Chowbotics debuted Sally the salad-making robot at the now-closed Calafia Cafe in Palo Alto in 2017. Sally, a 3-by-3-by-6-foot box that can operate 24/7, has since graduated from salads to customizable grain and poke bowls, parfaits, cereals and snacks and has been installed at universities, hospitals and grocery stores. Third-party delivery company DoorDash acquired Chowbotics this month, stating in an announcement that the robot will help restaurants "expand their current menu offerings as well as reach new customers in new markets without investing in an entirely new store."

Yo-Kai Express, Hayward: How about a bowl of black garlic tonkotsu ramen, made in 45 seconds inside a vending machine? Yo-Kai Express is using automation to bring high-quality ramen to offices throughout the Bay Area, including in Mountain View — pitched as a workaround to the cost and labor challenges of setting up a company cafeteria. The ramen machines are now in hospitals, hotels, airports, college campuses and the Metreon in San Francisco. Last month, the company took automation into the home kitchen with a smart appliance that includes a coffee maker, a high-induction cooktop and a steamer all in one.

Zume, Mountain View: Zume Pizza may offer a cautionary tale for rapid automation expansion. The company raised $5.7 million for a robotic pizza assembly line and special trucks that can bake pizzas en route (potentially someday delivered by self-driving vehicles). But by 2020, the company laid off more than 250 employees and announced it was shutting down its pizza operation to focus on other opportunities.

— Elena Kadvany

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