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Singapore Runs Out of Human Waiters, Uses Drones Instead

A Singapore restaurant has come up with a very innovative solution to cope with the shortage of manpower affecting the whole island city – flying robot waiters! The Infinium Robotics’ drones are all set to be introduced at the local restaurant-bar chain by the end of this year.

Availability of manpower has become an issue all over Singapore, ever since the government introduced curbs on cheap and foreign labor in order to slow down immigration. The restaurant industry has long depended on foreign labor, because young Singaporeans tend to look down on service jobs.

Several well-known restaurants and food stalls have actually shut down in recent months due to manpower shortage and high rent costs. In order to cope with the situation, a few restaurateurs have been experimenting with new ways – right from robots who can wok-fry rice and noodles, to iPad menus and bullet train delivery systems. But this is the first time a restaurant will have drones that serving diners.

The unusual waiters will navigate using infrared sensors placed around the restaurant, whizzing above the heads of diners on paths chartered by a computer program.They are expected to be sturdy and reliable, and of course, they will never call in sick a few hours before their shift. The drones can carry up to 2kg of food and drink, which adds up to about two pints of beer, a pizza, and two glasses of wine.

A few safety and liability issues are anticipated – a malfunctioning drone might just crash into a customer’s face – but Infinium Robotics CEO Junyang Woon said that their machines use onboard cameras and sensors to ensure that they do not collide with people. He also explained that the technology frees up capacity, “so staff are able to interact more with customers and enhance their dining experience.”

 

Spokespeople for Timbre Group, the restaurant chain buying the drone waiters,admit that there are limits to technology. Managing Director Edward Chia said that he plans to use 40 drones and redirect human staff to do higher-skilled jobs such as making cocktails and preparing food. He still plans to have human waiters, though. The drones will fetch food from the kitchen to a serving station, while a real person will place the dish before the customer. “We still want to have that human touch,” he explained.

Photos: Infinium Robotics

Sources: BBC, Tech in Asia

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