Grubhub & Cartken Head to College, The Story of a Stir-Frying Robot

Happy Monday! We’ve got a round-up of recent food robot news to get your week kicked off right.

This month, Singapore-based food robotics firm Ross Digital announced a $4.2 million ($3 million USD) Series A+ round led by food conglomerate Fraser and Neave. According to the company, which makes robotic arms for serving coffee and cocktails, the new funding will be used for product improvement and expansion into Thailand and Malaysia.

Ross Digital sells unmanned robotic baristas that can serve different types of drinks. An accompanying digital platform called Ross Cloud powers its baristas and provides a suite of restaurant solutions such as mobile app, a point-of-sale system, and an ordering kiosk. The company already has 15 units deployed in Singapore and China and aims to put out 40 robotics arms in the markets by the end of 2022. Some of its clients include Razer (whose venture arm also joined the funding round), CNBC, and Alibaba.

Ross Digital’s expansion is yet another sign of Singapore’s active food robotics landscape. Last August, Stellar lifestyle and Crown Digital teamed up to launch ELLA, another robotic barista that can serve up to 200 cups of coffee an hour. The two companies plan to bring ELLA to 30 Mass Rapid Transit stations by the end of 2022.

The Story of a Stir-Frying Robot

One of my favorite easy meals to cook is stir fry because I just add everything I like in the pan with oil and call myself a chef. It’d be even easier if I could have a cooking robot to do the work, and if researchers from Idiap Research Institute in Switzerland, the Chinese University of Hong Kong, and Wuhan University have anything to say about it, someday I just might.

That’s because these researchers have taught a robot how to make the stir fry motion. The three labs have been collaborating for about 10 years with a specific interest in teaching robots to prepare food for people. Junjia Liu, one of the researchers, noted that “Food preparation and cooking are two crucial activities in the household, and a robot chef that can follow arbitrary recipes and cook automatically would be practical and bring a new interactive entertainment experience.”

Researchers were able to achieve this feat by decoupling the two arms of the robot into a leader and a follower and teaching them separately through machine learning. The two arms were then combined through general bimanual coordination and movements were subsequently adjusted automatically by giving visual feedback of the contents of the pan. The robot was able to complete the motions of stir-fry, but the paper doesn’t mention whether the robot was successful with heat, which is likely the next step.

This isn’t the first time robots have dabbled in stir fry. Spyce, the robotic restaurant acquired by Sweetgreen, also served stir fry prepared by robots. Instead of using robotic arms, Spyce stir fry system utilized rotating compartments that cook and dispense stir fry. Spyce later pivoted to a different food robot that involved placing dishes on a conveyor belt that ran underneath dispensers that portioned out warm and cold ingredients.

Grubhub and Cartken Head to School

Grubhub announced a partnership with Cartken, a maker of self-driving AI-power robotics and delivery operator, to bring robots to college campuses around the US. The partnership will allow Grubhub to leverage Cartken’s artificial intelligence and camera-based navigation and mapping technology. The robots operate at up to 3 miles per hour on campus and can handle various weather conditions including rain and snow, perfect for the Ohio climate they tested in.

Grubhub and Cartken piloted the robots at Ohio State University this spring and are planning a full rollout in the fall. College campuses are the most saturated area for food delivery startups to test and operate in. Kiwibot announced plans to enroll in 50 college campuses by the end of 2022 and Starship Technologies is already enrolled at over 20 campuses.

In Grubhub, Cartken finds a partner already well-entrenched on college campuses. The food delivery company already works with more than 250 college campuses across the US where it integrates directly with meal plans so that students can access on and off-campus restaurants for delivery and pickup.

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