How Dubai’s RoboCafe makes dining out easy during COVID-19
DUBAI, United Arab Emirates — A whizzing sound can be heard as a robotic arm prepares a cup of coffee, ordered without any human interaction.
The robot puts the cup on a delivery bot with precision which then, slowly and steadily, approaches the customer’s table without spilling a drop.
That is how Dubai’s RoboCafe serves its customers, using an automated system of three robot arms working silently behind the counter.
“It’s like stepping into the future,” said Ahdi Marzouk, the manager at RoboCafe. “Our customers are amazed at what they see here. In a way, the pandemic worked in our favour.
“Now, people can have a regular but innovative cafe experience without having to worry about proximity to other people,” he said.
The cafe was launched in last August at Dubai Festival City Mall, located approximately 10 minutes away from the world’s tallest building Burj Khalifa. Initially, the café was scheduled to launch in March last year but faced delays due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
German automation company Kuka supplied the robotic arms but the internal programming has been done completely in-house. The small delivery bots have been developed by Dubai automation company DGWorld.
Maintenance of the robots usually takes place once a month while the equipment is cleaned every day, as required by COVID-19 protocols. While there are no waiters or cooks in the café, a couple of staff members hang around to help out with the ordering process.
Customers can choose their preference on an electronic menu placed in front of them. Payments are made electronically.
Once the order is placed, the robots get to work, and the little delivery bots bring the order right up to the customer’s table.
“While most of the functions are autonomous, the system still requires occasional IT supervision to monitor the work,” Marzouk said. “We have to make sure everything is working the way it’s supposed to. We are still exploring ways to improve”
The maintenance crew drops by once a month to check if the systems are working fine.
Three robotic arms, called manipulators, serve the same function as a human arm, said Vysakh Kp, a robotic application engineer at DGWorld who is responsible for the smooth functioning of the cafe robots.
“The robotic arms are fitted with server motors which monitor and provide feedback for each motion performed while preparing the order such as twisting, lifting, or turning,” he explained.
Each robotic arm has six server motors installed.
As an internal joke, the robotic arms have been named after characters from the famous cartoon series ‘The PowerPuff Girls’, Buttercup, Blossoms and Bubbles. They prepare coffee, food and other beverages respectively.
Rhea Rose Untalan, one of the staff members who are there to guide customers, said people are very curious about how it works.
“We enjoy seeing the fascination on people’s faces while explaining the process to them. Our system is very user-friendly. You just need to order and pay from your seat and the delivery bots will come to you with your order,” she said.
Once the order is delivered, the round bots turn around and go back to their assigned positions, ready to serve the next customer.