Are Restaurant Server Robots Quickly Becoming a Commodity?

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I’ve been reading (and can highly recommend) the book The Passion Economy by former Planet Money-er Adam Davidson. In it, Davidson talks a lot about small companies that thrive because they re-think how they do business by focusing on a narrow slice of the sector they are in.

A lot of it boils down to not having your work become a commodity — that is, something anyone can replicate. In addition to being boring, commoditizing your work is basically a race to the bottom. Someone, somewhere will do it cheaper and of equal quality.

So when I read about LGs CLio ServeBot being deployed at a CJ Foodville in Seoul, South Korea, Davidson’s work immediately sprang to mind. LG’s CLio ServeBot is an autonomous foodservice robot that carries food on four vertically stacked trays from the kitchen to the designated table. The ServeBot then carts empty dishes back to the kitchen.

If that sounds familiar, it should. Both Bear Robotics and PuduTech make almost the exact same thing (though, to be fair, PuduTech’s BellaBot has feline features and purrs when you pet it).

It feels like restaurant server robots are on their way to becoming less of a novelty and will soon be a commodity. They all do the same thing — carry food. They are meant to do the grunt work so humans don’t have to. So the feature set will be the same: Take food to table > carry food without spilling > avoid humans and other obstacles along the way.

Sure, there are enhancements that can be made, or perhaps there’s a unique way to move food from the robot to the table. But there really isn’t much else for the robot to do. Server robots will become a commodity, and whichever company creates the cheapest robot that does a decent job will win.

This doesn’t apply to every food related robot. More complex tasks like cooking will require more skilled robotics, so there is an opportunity for robotic startups to build a moat around those types of businesses through advanced thermal imaging, better manipulation, etc.

Though server robots may be heading towards commodity-ville, there is one bright spot for those that do want to enter/stay in that business — there are a lot of restaurants around the world, so there are plenty of buyers out there.

Either way, server robots would make an excellent chapter in the paperback edition of Davidson’s book.

Photo: GenoPalate

Your best diet life could be in your DNA

Perhaps the question What should I have to eat is more of an existential one than we thought. That’s the gist behind GenoPalate, a startup that uses your DNA to help you figure out what to eat. GenoPalate’s Founder, Dr. Sherry Zhang recently described her startup in a Q&A with The Spoon’s Catherine Lamb, writing:

The GenoPalate platform uses the latest research in metabolic health, genetics and nutrition to provide personalized insights to encourage healthier eating behaviors. From a simple saliva sample, our proprietary technology uses DNA to make personalized recommendations on the ideal intake of carbohydrates, proteins, fats, vitamins, and minerals.

Using your DNA for nutritional purposes is different from using the microbiome (check out the full Q&A for a deeper explanation), but it reinforces a trend towards hyper-personalized nutrition that we are watching here at The Spoon.

Zhang will be speaking at our upcoming Customize food personalization summit next month in NYC. She’ll be joined by a ton of other great speakers from Nestlé, Kroger, Spoonshot and more. You should definitely join us to see the front lines of a whole new frontier in nutrition. Just use the special Spoon subscriber discount code THESPOON15 for a 15 percent discount on your ticket!

Robot vending machine startups should partner up!

You know what would probably go great with that Briggo robot-made latte you grab at the airport? A pastry. Do you know what Briggo’s robot currently doesn’t serve? Pastries.

I wrote a piece over the weekend spelling out why Briggo should be talking with a company like Bake Xpress (which serves hot pastries) right now. By partnering up, the two can scout new locations to set up shop next to each other so you can get that latte and a treat.

But it’s not just location location location. We’re going to see a lot more vending machine startups pop up making all sorts of higher-end cuisine. This means there will be plenty of opportunity to mix-and-match meals and do cross-promotions (buy a pizza from Smart Pizza and get ten percent off a Chowbotics salad!). The point is, vending machine companies should be talking now to better coordinate, and capitalize on their futures together.

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