A first generation Bear Robotics delivery robot is displayed at the FoodTech Live event at the 2019 … [+]
© 2019 Bloomberg Finance LP
Bear Robotics has received a Series A investment of $32 million and has plans to mass-produce its self-driving restaurant robot called Penny. The robot works as a food runner and can deliver items to a table.
The Second Generation Penny
The current Penny is a second-generation model with the ability to bring food and drinks to a restaurant table on multiple trays. It can also serve as a bussing station for tables. The self-driving robot has a battery that lasts eight to 12 hours on a charge.
Penny makes the lives of servers easier by carrying the plates, but John Ha, the founder and CEO of Bear Robotics, does not believe the robot is taking away jobs. The company mentions that typical restaurant servers walk 5 to 9 miles per day, so Penny saves their feet and time. “It is designed to help servers spend more time with customers by doing dirty and physical work for them,” Ha wrote in a Medium post.
Series A Investment
Led by Softbank, the Series A investment of $32 million will allow Bear Robotics to mass produce Penny on a global scale. Since its debut at the National Restaurant Association trade show, Penny has worked at Amici’s Pizza, a casino and other restaurants in the U.S., Japan and South Korea.
“The data shows that Penny has increased servers’ time with customers by an average of 40 percent, and received customer satisfaction reviews of 95 percent. We are working diligently toward mass production of our robots for global chains,” Ha wrote.
Creating or Losing Jobs
Many of the debates about the growth of robotics in the restaurant industry focus on the elimination of jobs and their replacement with technology that does not need to eat, take a day off or get sick. When people face the loss of minimum wage jobs that make up most or their entire livelihood, common advice about retraining or finding work in a new field can fall flat.
On one side of the debate, there are arguments that tech like Penny the robot will create more jobs for engineers and AI experts. But a server in a restaurant will rarely have the education or background to take advantage of this new work. Nor have companies like Bear Robotics and others offered a way for servers to transition to higher paying or different jobs.
Instead, Ha, who has experience owning a restaurant, points out that the high turnover rate in the food service industry means servers do not stay in any job for long. With a turnover rate of 74.9%, it is easy to see why owners and managers are frustrated with their human restaurant workers and view Penny as the ideal replacement that never needs a bathroom break and does not complain about its back hurting.
For now, Penny cannot pick up the plates from a table or set them down. It cannot smile, greet customers or take note of their allergies. So Ha believes that Penny gives servers more time to interact with the people at the table and serve them better. But as customers get more comfortable with a quiet robot bringing them their food and drinks, they may not miss the human server asking them if they enjoyed their meal.