Every nation is known for their specialty goods. Switzerland has its chocolates, France has its wine... and Thailand has its robot waiters. MK Restaurant has over 300 locations in Thailand, and has been looking for ways to modernize their operation. That includes robot greeters and servers. The MK Robot Project has encouraged Bangkok University to develop several different models that could do the job. They'll have competition from Thailand-based CT Asia Robotics, which has already developed one restaurant-bot (Dinsow) and will soon launch another (Yumbo). Check out Dinsow and Bangkok University's serving robot in the videos below. With a major restaurant chain backing the idea, and both academic and industrial support, Thailand might be the proving ground for the future of automated dining.
Dinsow is a wheeled robot with some decent speed and an overly happy disposition. While its batteries only last two to three hours, its personality seems to say it could go for miles just to get you a cup of coffee. The bot can be controlled via voice commands or PC base station up to 80 meters away. 10 copies of the Dinsow have served as greeters in MK Restaurants, but not as waiters. Dinsow's arms look to be mostly for show. Not true for its sibling, Yumbo. The second CT Asia robot will be able to carry a tray and deliver food.
Bangkok University looks to be experimenting with several different possible forms for the MK Robot Project, all wheeled. The most promising is a model with a tray built into its chest. It can follow a line, escort someone by the arm, and avoid collisions with ultrasonics. They've even put it on a limited test run in a real restaurant, though you'll have to judge its success for yourself:
Of course, Thailand's efforts towards robotic waiters aren't unique. China recently unveiled its own robot-themed restaurant, with their own home grown bots. Japan, too, is clearly into the concept, considering all the weird ways they've gotten industrial robots to serve food. In fact, Thailand's first bot-enabled restaurant featured Motoman robots from Japan. Yet the Thai are making a strong effort to get restaurant-friendly robots into their mainstream. Dinsow only costs about $30,000 - not bad for this kind of market where restaurants might spend close to a million dollars to attract a crowd with automated servers. A low price point might be what restaurants need to take a chance and invest in the technology. In any case, whether they be from Thailand or elsewhere the robots of the world are here to serve.