Just as ATMs sought to replace bank tellers in the 1980s, an increasing number of robots and drones are taking jobs away from restaurant service staff. Today, the International Business Times reports on a new restaurant in Singapore that uses drones largely in place of human servers.
Timbre — a chain of live music bars and restaurants — deployed unmanned arial vehicles "in order to free up its staff to be able to interact with customers and improve overall service." Singapore's government recently limited the number of foreign workers that could immigrate into the country, and due to cultural and social norms, many Singaporeans do not want to work in the service industry.
"Anti-collision algorithms" [allow] operators to control "a whole swarm of helicopter drones flying in formation."
Timbre Group's managing director Edward Chia told the Times UK. "We are experiencing a major manpower constraint." He explained how drones are a more efficient way of delivering food to tables: "We realised that we were spending a lot of time delivering food from the preparation area to the customer service area, and there was a bottle neck which was affecting customer experience." Timbre has also installed tablets on tables to take customers' orders.
The restaurant group hired a technology firm to design and develop drones specific to their needs. Safety is a priority: "Anti-collision algorithms" are installed in each drone, allowing operators to control "a whole swarm of helicopter drones flying in formation in a constrained environment." Chia went on:
"We want to fly the drones high enough above head room. Eventually when we deploy them permanently, we're going to set flight paths that are not above the customers, but following the natural paths that the waiters take to see to customers.
"It can't just be safe, it has to look safe. So the drones are not going to fly over the customers' heads. We're going to run a couple of focus groups before we launch, using some of our loyal customers, and there will be many more test flights. We don't want to rush it, the R&D has to be done properly."
Singapore does not restrict use of drones operated in an indoor environment and, as the Times notes, "the government is in favor of ways to boost productivity."
Last year, mid-level chain TGI Fridays introduced drones to several restaurants in the UK and U.S. Dubbed "mistle-toe drones," the drone deploy was more of a marketing stunt than a practical cost-cutting measure. TGI Fridays' drone experiment also backfired: One of the drones reportedly sliced the tip of a reporter's nose off. Meanwhile, robots continue to entertain, serve, and even cook at restaurants across Asia. Most people find them either odd or delightful.
Go, check out the local news story about Timbre's drones: