I Just Want To Pat This Robotic Cat Waiter on Its Head

I Just Want To Pat This Robotic Cat Waiter on Its Head
BellaBot. Image: Pudu Robotics, compiled by Zachariah Kelly/Gizmodo Australia

A cafe in Canberra has started using a robot to serve its customers. Welcome to the future.

As originally reported by ABC News, the robot waiter isn’t introduced as simply a gimmick: it’s to address a staff shortage.

“We’ve been looking for staff for a year and a half, and really badly, desperately looking for staff for the last three months, which is really impossible to find at the moment,” Sam Vekiriya, the owner of the Fat Goanna Cafe, told ABC News.

“It is worth that cost… for the customer prospect, they get faster service, you can utilise your staff to just focus on customer service rather than clearing tables.”

The Canberra cafe is renting the cute robot as a part of a trial period, although Vekiriya says that he’ll buy the robot for about $30,000 once the trial period is over.

The robot comes from Pudurobotics and is called “BellaBot”. It has an adorable cat face and can be interacted with. You can stroke its head and it’ll love it, but it’s also pretty smart in that it’ll detect when plates and cups have been lifted from its trays. It’s one of many similar robot models getting around now.

cafe canberra robot
Ready to serve. Image: ABC News

Automation was always going to come for the hospitality industry — in fact, it has before (many times) — but being able to deploy a (relatively) cheap robot into a cafe environment is still a developing test case.

In the video above, which comes from the Fat Goanna Cafe Facebook page, you can see the cute robot working away, taking glasses and cups to a table in the restaurant. The robot isn’t built with arms or limbs, so restaurant-goers still need to take their glasses, cups and plates from the trays of the robot. It also has a cute little face and makes adorable noises (it says “thank you” in the video).

Interestingly, a robot like the one used by the Fat Goanna Cafe can cost as little as $40 per day (if you’re taking notes at home, that’s less than the Australian minimum wage), based on the older model “Amy” from Quantum Robotics.

“There are two elements to these robots. There’s a functional element, where they carry stuff around, and then there’s a sort of what I call a novelty factor, a marketing component,” Andrew Aston, the director of Quantum Robotics, told Gizmodo Australia. He also spoke to ABC News in their article.

“They’re limited in terms of what they can deliver in terms of savings on labour… Does it mean a cafe can employ four people instead of five? Probably not. Does it save time, does it do a little bit of work that frees the staff up to do something else? Yeah, it does. But in terms of huge return on investment, by replacing a human being, no. That’s not the use case.

“The return on investment is better seen in industrial settings like warehouse robots and those types of things, that’s where you can get a huge saving… One of our robots travels 20 kilometres a day in a warehouse in Sydney… 20 kilometres saves a lot of labour.”

Look, it is a cute robot. I want to pat its head.