Bangkok University, Thailand, is developing robotic waiters that can take your order and deliver it to your table as part of the “MK Robot Project”. MK Restaurant is one of Thailand’s largest and most popular chains with more than 300 locations, and is no stranger to technological innovation. They’ve implemented GPS in their supply chain, and human waiters already take customer orders on PDAs. They’re also planning on revamping their inventory system using RFID tags, a technology that will also be added to membership cards to store details like your favorite meals. In 2009, they commissioned Thai-based CTAsia Robotics to build 10 meet-and-greet robots (nicknamed Din Sow, see right) at a cost of 1,000,000 THB ($30,000 USD) each.
“We hope to get the robots to do some of the less ‘glamorous’ tasks that typically humans have to do, which tend to be quite repetitive, such as greeting customers with a sawadee ka,“ says Rit Thirakomen, MK Restaurant’s managing director. “This will provide a strong sense of spirit and offer great entertainment.”
The problem with Din Sow was it couldn’t do much beyond entertaining customers in the lobby with its cute LCD face, so the company is building a new one called Yumbo that can carry trays. Meanwhile, students at Bangkok University have developed several prototypes, all of which run on Linux.
Early attempts used a touch screen interface for taking orders but couldn’t transport anything. The latest version (far right in the above photo – looks a bit like Kokoro’s I-FAIRY) stores meals on a food tray in its upper body for accident-free transportation. It can use the same storage to retrieve dirty dishes and utensils. Like Din Sow, the new robot moves on wheels and navigates by following lines on the floor. The technical specs aren’t clear, but the robot appears to use only ultrasonic range detection for obstacle and collision avoidance.
It should be interesting to see if the novelty outweighs the inevitable customer frustration, as the robots move pretty slowly, can carry only a single plate at a time, and take up a large portion of the busy aisles. However, these relatively inexpensive robots give Thai companies like CTAsia Robotics a competitive edge that they hope will bolster sales in the international service robotics market in the future. This follows a mechanized Japanese restaurant in Bangkok where food is served entirely by Motoman robots, and a Chinese restaurant with several robot waiters.
A few more photos and videos follow after the break.