Robot cats mobilised in Japan to reduce staff shortages and prevent Covid spread

Japan’s largest family restaurant chain plans to deploy robot waiters with cat ears across the country to counter chronic staff shortages and lower the risk of spreading coronavirus.

kylark Holdings said it would roll out more than 2,000 Chinese-made ‘BellaBots’, wheeled robot waiters with tiered trays, an array of facial expressions and 3D obstacle-detecting sensors.

The move aims to reduce the work burden on staff during peak hours, amid a growing shortage of restaurant staff, fuelled by both the pandemic as well as Japan’s rapidly aging population.

The black and white machines, with a digital display for a face, will be able to carry food for up to four people, before removing their dishes when they have finished eating, according to leading financial newspaper Nikkei Asia.

It follows the launch of a trial programme at Skylark’s restaurants in August, which found that robots halved the number of steps taken by human waiters during peak hours.

The global restaurant industry has been deeply impacted by the coronavirus pandemic, with months of lockdown closures and shortened opening hours fuelling chronic staff shortages.

The initiative also taps into a growing demand for contactless service in the current pandemic climate, with the emergence of a growing number of innovations in restaurants, from smartphone payments to digital menus.

Skylark’s new fleet of robo-waiters will be phased into thousands of restaurants over the coming year, including its famed chain of Syabuyo hot pot restaurants.

Skylark, which operates 3,000 restaurants across Japan including its Gusto family restaurant chain, is one of a string of Japanese companies embracing robotics as a means to counter staff shortages and create a contactless environment.

Saizeriya, which operates 1,5000 low-cost Italian-style restaurants in Japan, has been testing robotic waiters since spring last year, while popular fast food chain Mos Burger is also trialling robots.

Japan’s robotics industry has boomed during the pandemic, as consumers and businesses explore ways to minimise human contact across the spectrum, from medical firms and logistics to the hospitality industry.

The nation’s surge in robotic innovations has gone hand in hand with a chronic worker shortage in Japan, with the service industry hit particularly hard since the start of the coronavirus pandemic.

Telegraph Media Group Limited [2021]

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