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Noodle robot dishes out soba to hungry commuters

In robot-loving Japan, automation is changing the landscape of everyday life. Robot shop clerks greet perusing customers, and automatons take latte orders. Lonely residents, on the other hand, are looking to AI droids for companionship.

Robots excel at repetitive tasks. As such, these highly-engineered machines are finding a natural home in the fast-food industry. The latest entry in the field is a soba-cooking mechanic arm that was recently unveiled at a Tokyo train station. So, if you're hungry, make an order and take a ticket. You won't have long to wait.

What’s Up

At Higashikoganei station on the Chuo Line, crowds of hungry commuters pass every day. Engineers have programmed a newly-developed robot to dish out delicious soba while giving weary staff a needed break.

The state-of-the-art droid was designed by Connected Robots Inc., a company specializing in kitchen robotics. The company is a relative newcomer in the industry. Despite this, they have several releases.

And the timing of their product line couldn't be better. As noted before, Japan is amid a labor shortage. Numerous industries, facing staff shortages and bankruptcy, are looking to robots to cover the labor shortfall caused by contracting demographics.

Currently, Connected Robots' soba robot is on trial until April 15th. The noodle shop is testing the bot, which serves 40 soba dishes an hour, to see if it can integrate into stores while meeting customer demands. Nevertheless, staff need not worry about being replaced. The robot will require some human assistance.

Only a Few Minutes’ Wait

The robot's function is simple enough. First, a cook opens a pack of soba and places the noodles into three strainers which are connected to a cradle. The mechanical arm then sweeps around and lofts up the cradle. It slides down tracks where it places the noodles into boiling water.

Anyone who has taken home economics 101 knows its essential to stir noodles as they cook. While the bot has no mechanical stirrers, it achieves this by shifting orthogonally in the vat of boiling water. The arm disconnects for a period allowing the noodles to cook.

After a few minutes, the soba is ready to be cooled. The mechanical arm sweeps back into action, picking up the cradle and tilting while rotating ninety degrees. This movement allows any excess water to sift through the strainer.

Next up are two cold water baths. The arm lowers the noodles into the baths, repeating the same side-to-side shifting motion before rising and tilting as before. Next, the soba is ready for the store clerk to serve it in a dashi (fish stock) broth topped with the usual suspects: seaweed, sesame seeds, and fried batter. The robot is capable of pumping out just as many bowls of soba as a human server.

Other Robot Cookery

Connected Robots have many other original cooking solutions available in their product line. First and foremost, is the takoyaki cooker OctoChef.

Takoyaki is a traditional Japanese food from Osaka. It is a ball-shaped cake made from seasoned batter with a chunk of boiled octopus on the inside. It is topped with a teriyaki sauce as well as mayonnaise, fish flakes, and dried seaweed.

Takoyaki is cooked in a dimpled griddle that is heated and greased beforehand. OctoChef automates most of this sweat-inducing process, adding the takoyaki contents and doling out the batter. With an ice-pick-like extension, the automaton can even manage the delicate process of mixing the batter as well as rotating the takoyaki.

An Animatronic Ice Cream Dispenser

Connected Robots also feature an animatronic soft-serve ice cream dispenser. Admittedly, I can't tell whether the featured facade is a dog, a cow, or a horse, or who knows what. Fortunately, the character design is customizable.

Regardless of the design, the robotic arm is dextrous. It can grab a cone and swirl the soft cream without a problem.

Beer Dispenser

There are many culinary robots available throughout Japan, but this is the most exciting: the aptly named Beer Serve Robot. Automatic libations? The future has finally arrived.

While the android takes up a lot of room in the kitchen, it is capable of grabbing a cup and tilting it for the perfect pour. When placed in a club, the robot can "move to the music" while matching its LED display to the beat.

The Breakfast Machine

After a night out with the Beer Serve Robot, you’ll likely be far from plucky the next morning. Never fear, with The Breakfast Machine, at least you won’t have to worry about—you guessed it—breakfast.

The Breakfast Machine can do it all: make toast, pour ingredients onto a griddle, crack eggs, and grill. The machine slides along its counter-aligned track and cooks away.

By - Luke Mahoney.