From disinfection robots and fever-detecting drones to robotic deliveries and telemedicine, interest in autonomous systems has grown during the COVID-19 pandemic. While not every robot is directly involved, some are helping the healthcare workers who are working under stressful conditions. One example is Chowbotics Inc.’s Sally, which prepares fresh foods to order.
Hayward, Calif.-based Chowbotics had already supplied more than 100 robotic salad dispensers to college campuses, offices, grocery stores, and hospitals for round-the-clock usage. Sally 2.0 stores the ingredients safely, is designed to be easy to clean, and can prepare meals to order or follow preset recipes.
Sally serves hospital hunger
Many hospitals have closed their salad bars, so Sally offers a safe and healthy alternative, according to Chowbotics users such as University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences (UAMS). Sally has been serving diners at the large university hospital in Little Rock, Ark., for just over a year.
“Due to COVID-19, we have had to close our self-serve salad bar, which really had a negative impact on customer service in our main cafeteria,” said Tonya Johnson, director of nutrition services at UAMS. “Fortunately, we have two Sallys in other retail locations where people can still enjoy fresh salads with ingredients they choose.”
“Sally has proven to be a valuable investment during this pandemic,” she told The Robot Report. “The equipment provides a safe, sanitary method to distribute fresh ingredients. We also save on the labor and food waste associated with grab-and-go salads. Staff can prep Sally in less time than it takes to prepare the grab-and go-salads.”
“The ingredients in Sally are also good for seven days, where grab-and-go salads are only good for two days,” said Johnson, MS RD LD CNSC. “Customers can also pay directly at the machine, which also helps with social distancing. I wish we had more robotic equipment like Sally in our food-service areas.”
The robot is already in more than 25 hospitals, and Chowbotics is donating three more robots to local hospitals, along with glove stations to reduce the risk of contamination when customers use the machines.
Chowbotics continues to scale
The global food robotics market will experience a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 12.8%, growing from $1.23 billion in 2016 to $2.5 billion by 2022, predicted Markets and Markets. It attributed this growth to tightening safety requirements, increasing demand for quick service, and advances in automation to minimize human contact with food.
Similarly, Reports and Data this week forecast a CAGR of 11.5% to 14%, from $1.4 billion in 2020 to $3.4 billion by 2027. Research and Markets said it expects a CAGR of 12.7% to reach $3.1 billion by 2025. These varying predictions demonstrate one challenge facing investors in emerging technologies, but the consensus is that automated food processing and preparation will likely increase, even without the heightened health concerns around COVID-19.
Chowbotics, which raised $11 million in June 2018, said it has recently sold 50 more robots, proving that Sally is scalable. Sally served more than 95,000 meals in 2019 and can serve about 30 people per hour. The company has hired new culinary team members to expand its offerings, some of which will involve further technical development.