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December 25, 2015

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Robots serve up a tasty treat at new high-tech noodle shop

A NEW restaurant that serves Japanese ramen made by two robot “chefs” opened yesterday on Daming Road in Hongkou District.

According to its owner Liu Jin, the two machines cost 1 million yuan (US$154,000) and were made by a company in Japan.

He said he considers them a gimmick but thinks robots will play a larger role in catering in the future.

The idea is certainly not new. Identical machines were first put to work making ramen in Nagoya, Japan, in 2009.

Robot arms are also far from cost-effective. The 1 million yuan price tag is about the same as it would cost Liu to employ two human chefs for six years.

That’s possibly the reason for the 58 yuan price tag on a bowl of ramen at his restaurant, which is about twice the price at another chain.

Still, Koya and Kona, as the bots are known, were a hit with at least one of the visitors to Toyako Robot Ramen on its opening day yesterday.

“I’ll bring my granddaughter next time,” Qu Lanying, 59, told Shanghai Daily.

“She would love the robots,” she said, adding that she was amazed at what they could do.

As with robots that have been used in car production for decades, Koya and Kona are programmed to complete a sequence of tasks, which they do with mesmerizing efficiency and no lack of panache.

While the bots can’t make noodles, they can boil and serve them and pour out the correct amount of soup into a waiting bowl.

A human then adds the required garnish and delivers the dish to the customer.

Self-confessed robotics fan Cao Yan said he made a special trip to the restaurant yesterday to see the machines in action.

“I was a little disappointed as I expected the noodles would also be made by robots,” he said.

“But I think more robots will be seen in restaurants in the future,” he said.

Toyako serves four types of ramen — seafood, fried fish, beef in brown sauce and braised pork — though the robots can make only the beef dish, Liu said.

Each bowl takes exactly 90 seconds to make, he said.

Despite their lack of flexibility and huge cost, Liu is confident he can make money from his idea.

“You don’t get any problems with robots. They’ll never ask for leave and they won’t get sick,” he said.


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