Rise of the machines: Meet the new wave of robots heading to your kitchen and your favorite restaurant

By Elaine Watson

- Last updated on GMT

From robotic hands on rails above your worktop that will make your dinner, and then clean up afterwards, to a suite of wifi-connected devices for stress-free meal planning and cooking, technology seems set to transform our kitchens. But what about restaurants, colleges and workplaces? Elaine Watson caught up with the entrepreneur behind Sally, the robotic salad maker, to find out...

Speaking to FoodNavigator-USA at the rethink Food​ conference in Napa Valley, Casabots​ founder Dr Deepak Sekar said Sally – a salad-making robot – enables consumers to design their own calorie-controlled salads on a touchscreen and wait as Sally prepares and dispenses them in seconds.

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Sally is a lot more hygienic than a salad bar

From the consumer perspective, he said, Sally is fun, hygienic, and meets growing demand for customization: “Sally is a lot more hygienic than a salad bar where hundreds of people with dirty hands touch the spoons and sometimes even the food.

“People can know the calories of the salad they are making. Today, when you go to a salad bar, you can often end up with more calories than a burger. With Sally, you can have 22 different ingredients, including five types of dressing, so you can mix and match them in many different ways, whereas if you go to a fast food restaurant you normally only get a choice of four, and they are usually more than 500 calories. With Sally, if you want a 300 calorie salad, you can have it.

"That's why many of the fast food restaurants like us, because we're offering mass customization, which is what Millennials want."

For restaurants, colleges, hotels or employers, Sally is affordable, efficient, and works 24-7 for no salary, making her very attractive for companies in places where labor costs are high, he said.

As for replenishment, he said: "One of our key brand values is fresh, high quality food, so let's say we go into a cafeteria. You have cafeteria management companies so we partner with them so that they refill the machine once a day and clean it."

Moving beyond the pilot stage

Sally – who will be followed by machines that prepare Mexican and Asian food – is being piloted by Aramark, Stanford University, Mama Mia Restaurants, Galvanize and Dan Gordon’s, and utilizes technology already widely used in food production facilities, said Dr Sekar.

“The first manufactured machines are coming out around the end of the year, so it's crunch time for us right now!”

Investors in San Jose-based Casabots include Techstars Ventures, the Central Texas Angel Network, Galvanize Ventures, v1.vc, Geekdom Fund and an owner of 15 McDonald's restaurants.

Kitchens in the future will be ‘full of computers talking to each other’

Other presenters at reThink Food included Mark Oleynik, founder and CEO of UK-based Moley Robotics, who claimed that his robotic kitchen​ (a pair of robotic hands on rails) could come to market in two years; and Innit​ ‘smart kitchen’ CEO Kevin Brown, who said kitchens in the future would be “full of computers​” that talk to each other, to help you answer questions such as: What’s for dinner? What can I make with what’s in my fridge? and How do I prepare and cook it?

Watch the Moley robotic kitchen at work below:

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