The robots “Robbie” and “Stoney”, gliding silently through the three spacious dining rooms, were a hit with the elderly in the Stoneridge Creek Pleasanton retirement community.
Stoneridge was one of the first to launch the Servi food service robot into a large living community last year, and others have reached out to them nationwide since the idea was adopted. Tesla-inspired technology was introduced from Bear Robotics, Inc. The City of Redwood initially went to the community to help staff clean tables and serve meals to at least 800 residents.
Born out of the pandemic, social distancing and staff shortages, these bots are now just bus tables since staffing levels have returned to normal. This eliminates the need for employees to run back and forth to the kitchen to remove soiled dishes and can focus on being more social with the residents.
Food and Beverage Division Director Zachary Ziegler says it was important when they launched the program that seniors still feel there is a human connection to employees.
“Our team has more time now to interact with our residents, which is the best part of their jobs,” Ziegler said.
At first, the rental robots were quite new, and some old people would put their sticks in front of them or walk close to them to see how they would react. But they are adept at dodging most obstacles, including cunning humans trying to stumble using a walker and a stick.
“They add some entertainment value,” said one Sandy Block resident. “We all keep our fingers crossed so you don’t get out of hand and bump into someone,” Block said with a smile.
Residents were also encouraged to use other technology-inspired apps including QR codes to order food directly from their tables. And now, a year later, the robots are mostly blending into the background as they zip to and from the cavernous kitchen teeming with workers.
Residents and friends Nancy Evans, Audrey Lord-Hausmann, Roseanne Lippert, and Sharon Oo were enjoying their lunch and sharing a bottle of rose wine while robots ran around the dining room waiting for lots of dirty dishes.
“They don’t speak up, they don’t call in sick,” Lord Houseman joked.
Did they ever imagine that they would see robots in their lives? In the tech-reliant Bay Area, it comes as no surprise to most people.
“It’s very effective,” said resident Nancy Evans. “Plus they are very cute.”
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