Globally, foodtech startups are now experimenting with robotics in the kitchen. Alibaba’s The Robot.he restaurant in Shanghai, Boston-based Spyce serving $8 salad bowls as well as robotic chefs making egg sandwiches and burgers, some of the most novel applications of robots are in the restaurant industry as industrial robotics applications make the trip to the kitchen.
And this trend is also something that has caught the fancy of Indian startups which are now coming on to the scene to build scalable automated solutions across industries including in restaurants. Hyderabad-based Robot Kitchen with robot waiters was recently in the news for getting robots to act as servers. However, with the industry 4.0 revolution fully automating processes across businesses, it won’t be long before robots start making dishes. In fact, Chennai-based startup RoboChef is already doing this.
Launched in June 2017, it claims to be the world’s first fully-automated robotic kitchen — right from prepping ingredients to cooking and serving the final dish.
“When it comes to outside food, one has zero clarity in quality and hygiene. Even the best restaurants cannot ensure consistent taste of your favourite dish. Plus, the restaurant industry is plagued with challenges like high operational costs and even high attrition rates,” Saravanan Sundaramoorthy, founder and CEO of RoboChef, told Inc42.
RoboChef is determined to solve these problems leveraging automation and IoT for the cooking process. It currently has more than 800 dishes in the menu with an ability to make 2000 servings in a single run. It also claims that the time taken in preparing the meal is 60% faster than the manual processes.
“In the last two months, we have served three marriages with an average of 12K people and 40 dishes taking a record time of 3.5 Hours and manpower of only six people.”
The Technical Aspects: How Do RoboChef In The Kitchen Work?
At RoboChef the only thing that is done manually is the loading of the ingredients.
“We use state-of-the-art computer vision techniques reinforced by deep learning algorithms to grade the quality of eggs, fruits and vegetables based on their colour, size and shape – our systems approve intake only if confidence rate is above 99%, which is above most human accepted standards,” said Sundaramoorthy.
The system also cleans itself with hot water every day at the end of the working hours.
Here’s the standard workflow process:
One of the biggest challenges in robotics is handling the failure rates of hardware components and sensors. RoboChef was no exception to this. The team initially faced the failure of mechanical instruments a number of times.
“We don’t think there will be any greater challenge ahead. We mitigate these risks intelligently using our proprietary hardware, high availability techniques, self-healing robotics system and by applying DevOps in the kitchen,” said Sundaramoorthy.
The founder added that rather than avoiding failure, RoboChef’s robotic systems are purpose-built to tolerate any failures. For instance, while preparing the meals, its IoT-based system collects real-time metrics to tackle failures at the right time.
To keep things in control, sensors and components are constantly monitored so they can use predictive analytics to service any parts or hardware components well before the customer notices the problem.
Another challenge here is keeping the maintenance cost minimal. At RoboChef, an engineer visits customers every two months for maintenance service, which in addition with predictive analytics, fixes any problem due to wear and tear even before the customer finds out – thanks to AI.
“In addition, we have built multi-vessel RoboChef systems, to increase parallelism and availability. So that there is no halting of operations,” he added.
The Commercial Aspect: How To Monetise And Gain Market Positioning?
RoboChef claims to have a monthly revenue of INR 45 Lakh currently and is targeting INR 3 Cr per month revenue in the next 3 months. The startup claims to be earning profits right from the very beginning. “We became profitable in the first 3 days of operations,” said Saravanan.
As a kitchen service, it has partnered with online food aggregators and caterers to deliver the food to the customer doorsteps. Besides this, it has a proprietary food ordering app as well as a web-based service. Through the app, users can even customise the ingredients for any dish they order.
RoboChef is also looking to monetise through subscriptions, franchise partnerships, corporate or commercial orders as well as its own restaurant outlet. “Right now we operate six cloud kitchens in Chennai and two ghost kitchens”.
The expansion strategy involves setting up RoboChef-powered cloud kitchen hubs across cities at an ideal distance of every 3 Km. Robochef can serve one-time or regular subscription-based orders without the trouble of manual fatigue, which reduces the hiring cost considerably, though the tech costs more than make up for it. Another advantage to this model is that due lower reliance on human resources, the kitchen’s availability is 24 hours a day and 7 days a week.
“With our subscription model and automation in place – we ideally promote cooking as a service model – as the advantages are huge in time-saving and cost-effectiveness. We ideally want to market it as ‘The nearest RoboChef may be behind you’.”
The Road Ahead For RoboChef’s Automated Kitchen
It is expected that in the next 50 to 100 years, the world will truly embrace the industry 4.0 technologies across all manufacturing and creation industries. A trend towards automation and data analytics is already visible within the manufacturing sector, and industry 4.0 is a culmination of new-age technologies including cyber-physical systems (CPS), the internet of things (IoT), industrial internet of things (IIOT), cloud computing, robotics, 3D printing, cognitive computing and artificial intelligence.
The global food robotics market is expected to grow at a CAGR of 12.7% from 2019 to 2025 to reach $3.1 Bn by 2025. Asia-Pacific is expected to record the highest growth rate over the forecast period, owing to significant adoption of industrial robots throughout the region including India.
In line with this, Sundaramoorthy believes that the business opportunity is very promising for the startup as consumers have accepted RoboChef for its consistent taste and the customisation potential.
Robochef supports multiple global cuisines like Chinese, Vietnamese, Thai, Indian, Italian, dishes. “We have also launched fully autonomous snack making systems, thereby bringing us to the centre of the food ecosystem,” he added.
Robochef team have also proposed a global solution for cooking, called CookOps. CookOps is applying the automation techniques widely adopted in the software world specific to cooking.
“Since RoboChef does all the heavy lifting we potentially see huge scope of scaling up with almost zero manual effort. we are well prepared and ahead of two years with our advanced tech stack to compete in case any competitor arrives.”