Drone technology has been making businesses run smoother across many industries. Before the coronavirus pandemic, stores like Walmart and Stop & Shop had even introduced roving drones to their stores for maintenance. In 2018, Walmart purchased 300 ICE RS26s aisle cleaning drones from Brain Corp. Walmart has fondly named the drone Auto-C. Around the same time, Stop & Shop had a custom drone called Marty built. The drone, with its large googly eyes, has since been placed in hundreds of Stop & Shop and Giant grocery stores in the United States.
Many other grocery and warehouse type stores have begun using similar drones. These drones slowly prowl through aisles alerting employees about messes or even cleaning them up. Updates in some of these drones even patrol aisles to take daily inventory counts. A GPS based map of the store is uploaded to the drone that has advanced sense and avoidance technology, allowing them to safely operate among shoppers. Similarly, in Asia, drones are being used inside restaurants to help operations run smoothly.
Timbré, a popular chain in Singapore, began using aerial drones to deliver drinks to patrons during busy hours to help offset waitstaff shortages. In the wake of the pandemic, restaurants everywhere have had a hard time keeping positions filled. And though an aerial drone inside a restaurant is not something the FAA is likely to authorize, ground drones like Auto-C and Marty have paved the way for restaurants to adopt the technology. Chili’s, a Texas style chain restaurant is ready to jump on the drone bandwagon.
With more than 1,600 locations, Chili’s too has faced its fair share of employee shortages. So, they reached out to Bear Robotics from Redwood, CA to invest in their hospitality drones called Servi. Servi uses artificial intelligence to self drive through complex environments while delivering food and drinks. Servi uses the same principles as Auto-C and Marty to navigate and avoid obstacles. However, there are a few differences. Servi’s smaller size means the drone can fit more safely in tight spaces. The drone can be outfitted with arrangements to use as a food server or a table busser. The drone can support a payload of 66lbs, perfect for transporting food or dirty dishes. The drone can sense when items are removed from its tray or basket, prompting it to automatically return to the base station.
Chili’s, which has named its Servi “Rita”, has been trialing the drone at 51 of its locations for nearly 2 years. The program is expanding to another 10 stores, all without jeopardizing human job positions. Brinker International, Chili’s, parent company, Senior Vice President of Innovation Wade Allen explained that there are a lot of mundane jobs that go into running a restaurant. The employees restaurants are able to keep on staff do not need to be wasting time running food to tables or dirty dishes back to the kitchen. He said that by using drones, waitstaff can spend more time interacting positively with customers. “We don’t want to be laggards,” Wade said. “We need to be thinking about innovation. We need to be thinking about robotics in the restaurant and making life easier for operators.”