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Could This Japanese Robot Cafe Be The Future of Restaurants?

Photo Provided by OryLab Inc.

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Pop culture has always envisioned what our future may look like. Sometimes we’re wowed by concepts like instant microwavable meals. Other times, scary possibilities are delivered with a comedic tinge, like soda replacing water. Mostly, entertainment touts the inevitable demise of human civilization at the hands of our superior robotic counterparts. There always seems to be something irreconcilable about the nature of humankind that robots or A.I., find too flawed to compute. While many futurist theories have remained theories due to lack of capable technology, recent years have seen the gap between entertainment and real life begin to close.

No country is ahead of the futurist curve more than Japan. From building real life mechs to heated toilet seats, Japan always has its finger on the pulse of possibilities. One Japanese company, OryLab Inc., has a more optimistic approach to robotic application.

One of their experiments involved an interactive pop-up shop named Robot Cafe Dawn Version Beta 2.0. Guests were invited to a cafe which featured a remotely-operated robotic waitstaff. The experience offered a peek into the potential future where robotics and smart technology intersect, introducing new possibilities for people with disabilities. Basically, OryLab Inc. took the Avatar concept and brought it to life, albeit in a much simpler, less colorful way. 

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Robot Cafe Dawn Version Beta 2.0’s robotic waitstaff were piloted by ALS and SMA patients who are unable to leave their bed. ALS (amyotrophic lateral sclerosis) is a disease that causes the death of neurons controlling voluntary muscles and SMA (superior mesenteric artery syndrome) is a rare digestive system disorder. Creator Kentaro “Ory” Yoshifuji envisioned a future where bedridden patients, typically unable to participate in normal societal activities or occupations, could put their skills to use. 

Within the cafe, guests can order from small OriHime robots placed on each table, each remotely operated by patients known as pilots. Beverages are then ushered to the table by larger robots equipped with arms known as OriHime D. These are also remotely piloted and guests can converse with the pilot by talking to the robot. The pop-up was a test to learn what shortcomings the technology currently has. 

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With all the talk of robots replacing us, this application of robotic technology has the potential to benefit many people facing physical disabilities that have long been unable to contribute their skills to society. OryLab Inc. CEO Kentaro Yoshifuji’s mission is to "let anyone, even a person with a disability, go anywhere in the world," and was inspired by the CEO's desire to help a personal friend with ALS. Their aim is to launch a permanent Avatar cafe later this year.

Who knows if this will catch on within the restaurant world? Either way, it does point to a more promising future where humans and robots can collaborate to improve lives.