Canberra cafe uses robotic technology to deliver food and drink to tables

Canberra cafe owner Sam Vekiriya has welcomed an autonomous robot waiter into his team after months of desperately searching for new employees.

The robot delivers food and drink to tables and returns dirty dishes to the kitchen when it’s done, patiently stopping when customers pass by.

After renting the robot for a trial period, he said he would buy it for an initial cost of around $30,000.

He said it was well worth the investment.

“It’s worth that cost…for the potential customer they get faster service, you can use your staff to just focus on customer service rather than cleaning tables.”

Mr Vekiriya said the decision to buy a worker robot was fueled by the continued shortage of workers, adding that the novelty factor was a nice bonus.

“We have been looking for staff for a year and a half, and really badly, desperately looking for staff for three months, which is really impossible to find at the moment,” he said.

“Everyone is really grateful, it’s good to have [the robot] for fun and entertainment and then less burden on staff, which they understand, everyone is really supporting that.”

The cafe owner plans to use the robot to complete tasks, but says he won’t take anyone’s job.(ABC News: Donald Sheil)

But he added that the latest recruit won’t be taking anyone’s job anytime soon.

Are server robots really that revolutionary?

The use of robots in hospitality is just the tip of the automation iceberg.

Andrew Aston is the director of Melbourne-based robotics consultancy Quantum Robotics.

The company implements a host of automated robots for use in warehouses, inventory, retail and hospitality.

These machines run the gamut from forklifts, palletizing arms and commercial cleaning robots in addition to small hospitality and retail assistants.

He said the use of hospitality robots was unlikely to reduce the need for human staff, despite their obvious novelty.

A white robot inside a cafe in Canberra
Quantum robots say the robot has a novelty factor, Aston said.(ABC News: Donald Sheil)

“Do they really offer an opportunity to downsize? Probably not,” he said.

“So the return on investment that companies typically look for isn’t there, but as a marketing tool they’ve certainly been very popular.”

Where robots are seeing much more growth is in what Mr Aston calls “the three Ds”.

Boring, repetitive or routine work with low productivity, the implementation of robotics has accelerated due to COVID, and it continues now that [COVID has] kind of calmed down, he’s still thriving.”

The International Robot Federation’s 2021 report on service robots found that the pandemic has driven robot adoption the most in the transportation and logistics sector, followed by the cleaning and medical assistance industries. .

The same report found that sales of hospitality robots did not increase significantly over the same period, likely due to businesses closing at the start of the pandemic.

What are the labor unions saying?

Sally McManus has called on Setka to resign from the labor movement for good
ACTU Secretary Sally McManus says the changes are welcome if they create safer workplaces. (News video)

The rising tides of automation are nothing new for unions that represent millions of Australian workers.

The Australian Council of Trade Unions represents approximately 1.8 million Australian workers.

Secretary Sally McManus said in a statement to the ABC that automation was far from a new phenomenon in many workplaces, but robots would only be welcome in the workplace as a coping mechanism. improved quality of life and worker safety.

“It is essential that workers are at the center of how automation is deployed in workplaces and industries, to ensure that automation creates safer workplaces and strengthens rights, wages and conditions of workers, rather than undermining them.”

In a statement to the ABC, Australian Manufacturing Workers Association President Andrew Dettmer added that robots have been part of Australian manufacturing for decades and that robots will be adopted in more workplaces as long as people would be given priority.

“Putting workers at the center of growing technological progress can help us create large-scale employment opportunities in highly-skilled, well-paying jobs, where workers have a high level of autonomy over the work they do” , did he declare.

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