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Robotics-based food vending machines proliferate during coronavirus crisis

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Arrival of coronavirus and the new reality that we face every day, in which social distancing and hygiene standards have a notable presence, have caused that the sales modalities in which no personnel intervenes, or does it minimally, are becoming more relevant. So it is with the options of delivery, both take-away and take-out orders takeaway have experienced a significant surge in volume; and other ways, like the rails drive-thru, they have also benefited.

Both in the direct surroundings of the restaurants and in those points of the cities where usual congregations of people are given (education centers, technological or industrial complexes, malls, leisure areas, stadiums and the like) a noticeable increase in the number of operational food vending machines.

These devices have been part of the city's furniture for a long time. What city or town does not have a vending machine for cold drinks, candy or salty snacks? Now the complexity of these machines is being taken to a new level thanks to the robotics for restoration.

We have already seen robot applications in such circumstances in the past. Vending machines offering freshly baked bread, others use robotic arms to make specialty coffees and select pasta assortments, and a long etcetera of cases. In short, the possibilities of these teams are practically limitless.

One of the latest models to appear on the market is Sally, a system developed by the start-up technology Chowbotics specialized in the creation of this type of robots that is based in Hayward (California, OF. UU.).

At first glance the mechanism is nothing out of this world. Several cylinders with rotary dispensers contain the necessary ingredients to prepare salads to suit the consumer. The client selects the composition of his dish and the machine mixes the cut lettuce, the tomatoes, tuna and any other chosen ingredient, in the tray that is subsequently delivered.

Vending machine is tremendously versatile and can be configured so that salads are not always the same. So you can use seasonal products according to the season of the year in which you are, or according to the availability of vegetables on the market. In the same way, restaurants and brands that want to differentiate themselves from other rival businesses that also use the system can easily do so by integrating their original recipes, unique and inimitable. Thus, the vending machine based on robotics it does not have to degrade the future of the restaurant, it can be an important asset to strengthen it.

The coronavirus crisis has made what was seen as a long-term strategy now consider itself an ace up its sleeve in surviving the economic vicissitudes that the pandemic has brought with it.. So Chowbotics have been quick to prepare this system: they know that many consumers are suspicious of the idea of ​​attending a dining room and interacting with other people, but the comfort of receiving a freshly made meal is still there and it is difficult to ignore it when the only food handling robot is.

Thanks to previous experiences in the development of robots for restaurants, Chowbotics has been able to complete this model in record time. A) Yes, Sally, the robotic vending machine that prepares fresh salads, joins other equipment sold by the technology company, those who sell cappuccinos, freshly baked croissants or hot ramen bowls.

The president of the company, Rick Wilmer, comments that the demand for the system has increased exponentially during the first attack of the pandemic. The main stakeholders are hospitals and grocery stores with ready-made food shelves in situ and that they have now dispensed with these products to avoid problems with the government administration.

With a sale price of 35 000 Dollars, Sally's apparent simplicity is misleading as she makes use of the latest robotics innovations and uses state-of-the-art sensors that allow the vending machine to precisely cut delicate food without spoiling it.. A clear example is the ripe mango which, if not handled with care, can be crushed. Sally prepares thin slices of mango or any other product if that is what is requested.

At Chowbotics they decided to develop this machine to fill a neglected niche, while responding to one of the population's biggest concerns about food vending machines: the fact that they often sell unhealthy products, with high caloric content, saturated fat, salt or refined sugars.

In this way Hayward's startup company enters the salad market. But at the same time many others are looking to gain a foothold in the automated food vending segment. It is for example the case of Wittern Group, who has been in the vending machine business for more than two decades and where, although they consider that the food market has little room for growth, lately they observe a transition from the traditional vending machine to the dispensing control systems.

In the same way they see it in Yo-Kai Express, another of Chowbotics' rivals. For them these robots capable of preparing and dispensing meals, drinks, snacks and others are autonomous solutions for restaurants, implicitly referring to the fact that there is no substitution but complementation with respect to the services that have historically been offered in restaurant dining rooms.

Just about this fact emphasizes the analyst of technology for restoration of Spoon, Chris Albrecht. Robotics-based vending machines cannot and do not intend to displace restaurants, They are specifically designed to supply them in those places where they have no place. In this way, the restaurant that has these machines can expand and occupy new spaces that previously could not reach.

In any case, although these robots with basic capabilities can be a great help to overcome the economic difficulties imposed by the coronavirus crisis, are still far from having the necessary benefits to be able to offer more complex recipes, so its use is not indicated in all cases, only in those where the simplicity of the food invites it.

What if it is true, is that the medical community of hospitals where machines like Sally have been installed have issued positive opinions. Some point out that salads are prepared with hygienic measures superior to those that would be seen in a restaurant, and also, tightly sealing prepared food, the risk of contamination by pathogens and oxidation of food are minimized. Others have stressed that salads are a very healthy option that is not very common in vending machines and that this is a step in the right direction when it comes to fight obesity, another modern world pandemic.

Everything indicates that these types of machines will be increasingly common, and more than individual elements, should be understood as an extension of the brands and restaurants that manage them.

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Article by the editorial team of DiegoCoquillat.com. It has professionals both in the field of hospitality, gastronomy and tourism, and new technologies and innovation.

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