Robots Rescue Friday Dinner

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The following vignette is inspired by the recent advancements in robotic food preparation and delivery. I for one, would welcome our new robot sous-chefs.

Alone in her office, Jennifer was growing weary. The conference call had been plodding along for several hours. It was a painful, tedious call. The CFO just used the word “candidly”. It occurred to her that he used that word often and it annoyed her now. Maybe she was just bothered because it was 5:30pm on a Friday. Oh no. Dinner. It was her responsibility to provide dinner for her family of four tonight and this lingering conference call was posing a challenge. It was even too late for a take out plan. Deep breath, no problem…she would utilize her new best friend for this situation, a company called RobotoDine.

As the call carried on and the folks from operations started describing their definition of a severity one vs. severity two problem, Jennifer clicked the RobotoDine app on her mobile phone. She continued to commit an appropriate level of attention to the call as the app opened and displayed the specials. Chicken Marsala caught her eye. She used to make that entree for her husband. He told her he would never tire of it. But that was three promotions and two children ago, when she had the time to do things like prepare dinners. Using the app, she added two orders of the Chicken Marsala and considered the options for her younger, more selective eaters. Jennifer quickly found previous orders and selected two grilled cheese dinners. She decided to include the french fries. It was Friday after all. But in a commitment to promoting healthy dinners, she also added two cups of freshly cut fruit. She placed the order and was prompted for a delivery time. Doing some quick estimates on the longevity of the call and the drive home, she selected a 6:00-6:15 delivery time. Delivery to the driveway — that was a very nice aspect of the service.

Back on site at RobotoDine, Jennifer’s order landed in the system. The facility was divided into two main rooms separated by a smaller corridor. One room contained the ingredients that needed to be kept cold in refrigeration appliances and the other room was dedicated to the cooking. Robot arms in the middle corridor moved ingredients from the cool room to the cooking room as necessary. Sliding compartments that opened into the the corridor from each room enabled the transfer. The hot room contained the range tops and super-hot ovens that could cook meals very quickly. The old adage that states “if you can’t stand the heat, stay out of the kitchen” would be very relevant to this room that typically reached temperatures over 100 degrees. The robots and equipment could tolerate that temperature much more than a human and the heat prevented prepared foods from cooling excessively. The absence of humans allowed for some other conveniences. For example, the pots and pans did not require the awkward and space-consuming handles that human required.

A variety of robot structures carried out their coordinated instructions. Manipulator arms moved ingredients across staging areas and ovens, chopped ingredients on demand, sliced and hammered meats, dispensed sauces and other ingredients, and stirred dishes. Parallel robots placed ingredients into the appropriate preparation and cooking areas. Similar to the scene of an automated warehouse, four-wheeled rovers moved meals from one staging area to another. The operation borrowed the trade secrets of the best restaurants, staging and pre-cooking food as appropriate and acceptable.

The Chicken Marsala preparation was in progress. The mushrooms, which like most of the produce in the facility were supplied by a local vertical farm, had been chopped. The pounded and floured chicken breasts were placed in a skillet and timed using previous recordings based on weight and cooking temperatures. The chicken temperature would be verified with a precision three-prong thermometer and the results would be added to the algorithms for cooking estimates. The angel hair pasta was placed in boiling water that was periodically filtered and re-circulated. When the dish was completed it was packaged. When Jennifer’s complete order had been cooked and packaged, the meals were placed into two containers: one for the hot meals and one for the fruit cups and side salads that were prepared on demand by robotic appliances RobotoDine had bought from another robot manufacturer. The biodegradable containers were specially designed to keep foods hot and cold while minimizing the “soggifying” effect that some meals were prone to.

More RobotoDine robots placed these dishes into their appropriate destinations. Some were quickly cooled and frozen for sale while others, like Jennifer’s order, were loaded into autonomous electric vehicles. The small car with Jennifer’s order was loaded to its appropriate capacity and then left the facility. Jennifer received a text message indicating: “Your order is on its way. Estimated time of delivery: 6:05PM”. RobotoDine used mapping and traffic report web services to support its delivery time estimates. They also utilized a fleet management platform to keep track of their vehicles and let customers know when to expect arrivals. When Jennifer arrived at home she read the message and smiled with relief. She opened the RobotoDine app and saw that her delivery was a mile from her house. She walked from her garage to the driveway and opened the RobotoDine app to check the map for the location of the delivery vehicle. Seeing that the delivery car was down the street, Jennifer waited for its arrival. A cheerful chirp emitted from the car as it entered the driveway. It navigated to the top of the driveway and stopped to remove the dinner boxes.

Jennifer received a text message indicating her order had been delivered and she clicked the “I got it!” button. Several minutes later, the entire family thoroughly enjoyed their meals; Jennifer enjoying the convenience as much as the quality. Her husband indicated that the Chicken Marsala would never match hers but she wasn’t sure if he was being sincere or strategically diplomatic. Some time later, Jennifer would rate her meal and experience using the app which subsequently provided her with an account credit towards her next order. She looked at interest at the promotional banner announcing the upcoming automated breakfast diner from the company behind RobotoDine.

Back at the RobotoDine facility, an empty delivery car returned to be stocked for its next mission. From the top of the building a drone quadcopter departed with a small container carrying two dozen Buffalo Wings. It was Friday.

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