Intelligent service robots rolled out to transform service industry amid pandemic

Keenbot, which can serve food or transport orders from stores to collection points, is the result of a partnership between SBRG and Keenon Robotics. ST PHOTO: NG SOR LUAN
A Keenbot serving food and clearing trays during a demonstration at SoftBank Robotics Corp Group’s announcement of its partnership with Keenon Robotics on Sept 21, 2021. ST PHOTO: NG SOR LUAN

SINGAPORE - A robot receives a meal for four in the kitchen, then zooms off to deliver the food to diners. It even thanks them for choosing to patronise the eatery.

This could be what the future of the service industry looks like with new robots on the market, with a partnership between SoftBank Robotics Group (SBRG) and Keenon Robotics announced on Tuesday (Sept 21).

SBRG is a Japanese robotics solutions firm that has robots in use in more than 70 countries. Shanghai-based Keenon focuses on indoor intelligent service robots.

They are launching a robot called Keenbot. Armed with trays, it can serve food in restaurants, up to four dishes at a time. The robot, equipped with obstacle avoidance and smart scheduling systems, will allow existing service crew to refocus on other aspects like customer service.

Mr Yee Wee Tang, managing director of Grab Singapore, said on Tuesday that the company will introduce the service robots in its GrabKitchen in Hillview, a cloud kitchen that houses more than 20 food and beverage brands.

He added: "We look forward to improving the agility of our operations and reduce repetitive and manual processes with the help of the robots."

The robots will also help with limiting physical contact while improving productivity, he noted.

Mr Kenichi Yoshida, chief business officer of SBRG, said the pandemic has accelerated a long-needed digitalisation in order to respond to new needs.

"Non-human interaction is the immediate need for the service industry right now. Covid-19 is a big driver for the digital transformation of the industry," he added.

Tung Lok Group, which owns and manages more than 35 restaurants in Asia, is keen to tap the new tech. It already has experience using robotic technology in the kitchens.

Mr Andrew Tjioe, president and chief executive, said: "Most of our restaurants are full-service restaurants and, at Tung Lok, we take service very seriously. We do not expect these robots to replace the human element... but rather, we hope for these robots to further complement and enhance our service efficiency."

SBRG noted that the partnership with Keenon is in line with Singapore's vision of becoming a Smart Nation. The service robots could be deployed to hawker centres to make it easier for diners to comply with the recently enforced tray return policy.

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