robots?  Some companies find that only humans can do this job

robots? Some companies find that only humans can do the job

Robots are the future. However, this will not be so soon in some segments.

Companies are trying out automated machines to serve food at restaurants, deliver orders to homes or do chores in stores, in part in hopes of easing worker shortages. But some of these consumer-facing bots don’t make it through the testing phase.

among the frustrated,

fedex corp.

A spokeswoman said last month that she was disabling Roxo, her last-mile delivery bot, to prioritize several “near-term opportunities.” Also in October, Amazon.com said it would end field testing of Scout, its home delivery robot, after learning that some aspects of its “unique delivery experience” were not “meeting customer needs,” a company spokeswoman said. .

and during the summer,

DoorDash a company

She said she was closing her Chowbotics business — best known for Sally, the salad-making robot — about 18 months after she bought it.

An Amazon scout, it roamed the streets of Atlanta last year before the company halted its field tests.


picture:

Mark Hertzberg/Zuma Press

“While we gained valuable insights into how we can better serve this market, we have concluded that our current approach does not meet our very high thresholds for continued investment,” a DoorDash spokesperson said.

Companies hoped that the growing variety of robots could help them not only face shortage of workers, But speeding up labor-intensive tasks, improving customer service by reducing the number of things human workers have to do, and as an added bonus, positioning their brands as innovative and forward-oriented.

Some of these efforts have been successful, at least in part. Others have stalled, leading companies back to technology that is less sci-fi but can be deployed more quickly and cost-effectively.

Initial costs and uncertain returns

Consider the story of Patty, the robot waiter at the fast food chain

Burgerify

Presented by International Inc. Patty put to the test in Jupiter, Florida, this past December.

“Utilization of technology is a key factor in guest and employee happiness,” said Carl Goodhue, the company’s chief technology officer, while announcing the new server.

Almost a year later, Patty is no longer rolling around the floors of BurgerFi. While many customers enjoyed being served by the computer-operated waitress, the cost of deploying Patisse to all of the chain’s 120-plus restaurants would ultimately be too high for relatively marginal value, Mr. Goddio said this week. He said the human servers were happy to have a bot to help her bus boards, but Patty didn’t speed things up enough to turn significantly more tables.

“It turned out to be a huge investment for something that really is an extra couple,” said Mr Goodhue. Instead, BurgerFi is investing in customer service technology, such as self-ordering kiosks and an answering phone bot named Becky, he added.

Despite mixed reviews, about 121,000 robots were sold in the service sector last year to carry out tasks from transportation to surgery to vacuuming, according to the International Federation of Robotics, an industry organization that conducts an annual census of robots based on global vendor data.

Some companies are content to have their bots do the job. White Castle, for example, has Flippy 2, the latest version of its robotic cooker, in operation in the kitchens of four of its more than 350 fast-food restaurants, and plans to bring the robots to 100 more locations. Besides the fries, Flippy also makes onion rings.

Wakefern Food Corp.’s ShopRite, a regional grocery chain, uses Tally robots in 20 of its stores and plans to roll out more in the coming months. Made by Simbe Robotics Inc. Tally travels the aisles looking for inventory problems, such as items in the wrong place or empty shelves.

ShopRite was happy with Tally, who scans shelves to check for misplaced items or bare shelves.


picture:

Simbe Robotics

Needs improvement

But other companies are rethinking robot assistants.

Chili’s Grill and BarAnd the

The casual restaurant chain owned by Brinker International Inc. in August discontinued the Rita Restaurant, which seated guests, served food, movable tables, and sang “Happy Birthday.” The decision came just four months after Chili’s expanded Rita’s from 10 pilot locations to 51 other restaurants.

“We’re going to stop some of those projects that we didn’t have a line of sight to generate a return on business,” Brinker CEO Kevin Hochman said during an earnings call at the time. Mr. Hochman, who took over the top job in June, said he was looking instead at investing in things like kitchen equipment that will cut cooking times and turn tables faster, and improve the user interface for the mobile ordering site.

A spokeswoman for Brinker said Chili’s had hoped Rita would ease the load on the wait staff, but found the robots were too slow to keep up with service. She added that all Ritas will be removed from Chili’s restaurants this month.

The company was surprised Chili’s paused the technology as research indicated it was very well received by employees, said Juan Higueros, co-founder and chief operating officer of Rita’s maker Bear Robotics, adding that this week a Chili’s employee published a report. TikTok video for workers Goodbye comedy for their android friend.

I haven’t seen good examples of companies successfully deploying bot systems in low-margin, public-facing settings.


Matt Bean, University of California, Santa Barbara

“We hope that we will have the opportunity to continue the progress we have been making jointly in the near future,” said Mr. Higueros.

Matt Bean, an assistant professor in the Technology Management Program at the University of California, Santa Barbara, said the abandoned tests highlight the difficulties in balancing the costs of robotics against their utility.

Professor Penney said robots are still prone to messing up essential tasks and often require supervision in fluid environments such as shop floors or sidewalks. And their success in public has been largely limited to high-margin businesses in contained and predictable spaces—providing room service in luxury hotels or mixing cocktails in bars, for example—where robots are often novelties that companies can charge. additional to it, he said.

“I haven’t seen good examples of companies successfully deploying robotic systems in a low-margin, public-facing environment,” said Professor Bean.

McDonald‘s

CEO Chris Kempzynki in July told investors and analysts that he believes robots are not a viable solution to labor demand in the vast majority of restaurants.

“The economy doesn’t pan out, you don’t necessarily have a footprint and there’s a lot of infrastructure investment that you need to make around your facilities,” he said.

McDonald’s is investing in robots at the software level, however, they are testing Automatic recognition of the voice that can be filled in For the system takers of human beings at its entrances.

Overcoming human obsessions

Despite companies’ enthusiasm for robots—with limitless hours, no sick days, bathroom breaks, or nagging—customers aren’t necessarily happy to see them when they’re expecting a person. When Chili’s published in May video Rita On her Facebook page, some customers were upset. “Stop trying to erase people!” wrote one commenter. Nearly 60% of Chili’s diners surveyed said Rita’s did not improve their overall experience at the restaurant, Brinker’s spokeswoman said offline, adding that Rita’s job was to facilitate staff jobs while entertaining the diner, not to get Jobs of human staff.

Share your thoughts

We’re opening comments on some of our CMO Today articles and would love to hear from you in the conversation below. Would you like to see more robot assistants in your favorite stores, restaurants and hotels? Let us know in the comments.

Debbie Roxarzad, founder and CEO of Las Vegas-based restaurant chain Rachel’s Kitchen, said she encountered some customer resistance when she first introduced the Servi — another machine from Bear Robotics — at her restaurant in Henderson, Nevada in December 2021, when she was having trouble finding staff. .

The annoyance, though, quickly dissipated, she said.

“The regulars now see that they have not replaced any of the team members behind the counter — if anything, they see that the team members are more relaxed and happy to have that extra pair,” said Ms. Roxarzad. .

Ms. Roxarzade said Rachel’s Kitchen staff mainly use Servi to share the load when bringing food and drinks to a large table or multiple tables. She added that servers are pleased to not have to walk back and forth to the kitchen as much, and to spend more time on guests.

But the staff also had to learn how to work around Servi’s quirks. For example, Servi isn’t great at moving dirty trays back into the dish sink. “They don’t open the doors,” said Ms. Roxarzad.

Servi also can’t get out of the house because the sun is interfering with his navigation system. So Ms. Roxarzade can’t use it in locations that hold a lot of customers in yard areas, she said.

Outdoor hazards are a big problem for delivery bots in particular. The internet is full of videos of coolers on wheels driving themselves into potholes, getting stuck in snow, crashing, getting robbed and, in one case, being obliterated by a freight train.

Some people have also raised concerns that delivery bots could block wheelchair access on sidewalks or get in the way of humans, prompting local authorities to restrict or ban their use. Toronto, for example, last December banned delivery bots. A spokeswoman said the ban would remain in effect until Ontario’s Department of Transportation creates a pilot program to research the effects of bots and the city council decides whether to participate.

However, these roaming robots do come with advantages, according to Jeremy Sherk, co-owner of Conan’s Pizza in Austin, Texas. In April, he began using Cyan Robotics Inc.’s Coco robots. Serving deep dish pizza around the South Austin area. As it turned out, he said, the robots were much slower than delivery drivers and often found it difficult to cross wide roads.

Jeremy Sherk of Austin’s Conan Pizza found things to like about Cocos, though they were slower than the delivery drivers.


picture:

Jeremy Sherk

“My biggest pie, which we call Savage, weighs about 6 pounds,” said Mr. Sherk. “It’s not really good to bounce back for 20 minutes.”

In August, the robotics company halted operations in Austin due to supply issues, a spokeswoman said.

But Mr. Sherk said he’d still use Cocos if they were available, for one big reason: They were great ads.

“It was all about getting people talking, which worked,” he said. “I would say I have the oldest pizzeria in Austin with the latest delivery technology. I thought it was very good.”

write to Katie Deighton at katie.deighton@wsj.com

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