Japan’s first robot bartender has begun serving up drinks in a Tokyo pub in a test that could usher in a wave of automation in restaurants and shops struggling to hire staff in an aging society.
The repurposed industrial robot serves drinks in its own corner of a pub run by restaurant chain Yoronotaki. A face on an attached tablet computer smiles as it chats about the weather while preparing orders.
The robot, made by QBIT Robotics, can pour a beer in 40 seconds and mix a cocktail in a minute. It uses four cameras to monitor customers to analyze their expressions with artificial intelligence software.
“I like it because dealing with people can be a hassle. With this you can just come and get drunk,” Satoshi Harada, a restaurant worker, said after ordering.
“If they could make it a little quicker it would be even better.”
Finding workers, especially in the service sector, is set to get even more difficult.
The government has eased visa restrictions to attract more foreign workers but companies still face a shortage as the population shrinks and people over 65 account for over a third of the total.
Service companies that can’t relocate overseas or take advantage of automation are more vulnerable than industrial firms. In health care alone, Japan expects a shortfall of 380,000 workers by 2025.
Japan wants to use the Olympics to showcase service robot technology, with organizers planning to use robots built by Toyota Motor and Panasonic Corp. to help visitors, workers and athletes.
The robot bartender trial at the pub, which employs about 30 people, will last two months.
“We hope it’s a solution,” Yoshio Momiya, a manager, said as the robot served drinks behind him.
“There are still a number of issues to work through, such as finding enough space for it, but we hope it will be something we can use.”
At about ¥9 million ($82,000), the robot costs as much as employing a human bartender for three years.