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Sci-Fi to Reality As A Robot Whips Up Meals in China’s Hongqiao AI Canteen

In a scene reminiscent of futuristic films, a neighbourhood canteen in Hongqiao, China, is turning heads and stirring debate with its high-tech approach to meal preparation.

The chef here isn't a person but a tall, yellow articulated robotic arm. This robot chef efficiently assembles meals from pre-cut ingredients supplied by third parties, serving over 500 diners daily, two-thirds of whom are elderly locals.

Chinese food robot at work

Source: Christopher St.Cavish

Launched three years ago via a combination of private enterprise and local government assistance, the Hongqiao AI Canteen, with its 30-seat capacity, operates with minimal human intervention.

Traditional meat based meals containing dried bamboo shoots and oyster mushrooms, and Shanghainese vegetable rice are prepared by the robot and served on a buffet line. However, this line isn't self-serve; three part-time human employees are responsible for portion control, while a fourth employee handles cash transactions.

Source: Christopher St.Cavish

The average meat based dish price costs 8 yuan ($1.24) while vegetable dishes cost only 3.5 yuan. The canteen accepts a variety of payment options, including bank card, QR codes and the digital yuan, also known as e-CNY or Digital Currency Electronic Payment.

Despite the high-tech setup, the canteen maintains a community-focused ethos, says China based food writer and researcher, Christopher St.Cavish whose experienced this new tech first-hand. "It's closely linked to government initiatives, providing subsidised meals and free home delivery services for the elderly, handled by three additional full-time staff. Remarkably, the automation has slashed labor costs to just 18%, about half of what a conventional restaurant would spend", says Christopher Cavish.

Christopher St.Cavish

Source: Christopher St.Cavish

This hi-tech culinary automation extends beyond China, with similar initiatives underway in California to Singapore, suggesting a global trend toward kitchen automation. Yet, this shift raises complex questions about the economic, social, and class implications of replacing human chefs with machines.

For the patrons of the Hongqiao AI Canteen, the food might taste institutional, but the acceptance and reliance on such technology grows daily. Initially met with skepticism, the canteen now sees customers lining up eagerly, some even bringing containers from home to double their robot-cooked meal.

This shift might signal a broader acceptance and a redefinition of dining norms in the age of automation.

We joined Christopher St. Cavish, a China based food writer and inventor of 'the dumpling index' , in his latest new tech food experience.

For more information about Christopher's work in China CLICK HERE



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