Singapore – Local based coffee shop Crown Coffee gets a new help for their shop duties—a robot barista developed by tech company Intel.

Named Ella after the wife of Crown Coffee’s CEO and founder Keith Tan, the robot does what a typical barista does: taking orders remotely via an online app, making a cup of coffee, notifying the customer when it’s ready, serving it, finalizing the bill and charging the customer’s credit card.

Built under the inspiration of Intel Singapore employees taking a break at the Crown Coffee, Tan gives thanks to Intel for materializing as to what he calls a ‘wild idea’.

“I have plenty of gratitude to Intel, as they helped me realize this idea. They listened to me, understood the problems I was trying to solve, and partnered with me to design and develop prototypes,” Tan stated.

With Ella being present at the Crown Coffee workspace, it solved many of Tan’s initial problems, including compactness of the unit, freeing up labor for efficiency, and coffee preparation safety: a vital feature put into use during the COVID-19 pandemic.

“Ella opens new possibilities to food retailers to enable contactless futuristic service and develop alternate revenue models with the data Ella gathers,” said Santhosh Viswanathan, managing director for Intel Asia Pacific and Japan.

“What we are doing is transformational and will be part of the landscape of smart cities where AI-driven robots become deeply ingrained into our daily lives. Also, this is New Retail, which eases retail labor shortages while providing re-skilling employment opportunities for value-added technology and engineering people,” Tan added, citing that Ella is planned to be expanded across their 40 locations on the island, and eventually to Japan.

Hong Kong, China – When the coronavirus pandemic hit nations around the world, the hospitality industry was one of the sectors that bore the brunt of sunken sales due to restricted in-person interactions, and the use of robotics might just be the saving element that businesses are looking for, suggested a study by Chinese University of Hong Kong (CUHK). 

According to the study, robotics can help restaurants and hotels bring customers back at a time when people are worried about catching the disease by human transmission. Furthermore, among the two countries, the US and China that were studied, the effect of robots was more profound with the latter. 

One restaurant complex in Guangdong province in China has already made the jump to robotics with its operations completely run by a robot staff, executing food preparations and cooking upon order. Meanwhile, in the U.S., a robotic arm called “Flippy” is being tested by fast-food chain White Castle to cook products such as french fries.

While the use of robots is proving to be a big help, the study found that there were still a lot of challenges faced for its applications such as inaccurate interpretation of human signals and on a larger scale, the high investment cost to the risk of mechanical breakdowns 

Japanese hotel Henn na has encountered such difficulties where guests complained about being woken up in the middle of the night when Artificial Intelligence (AI) assistants mistook snoring as a voice command. Meanwhile, a Chinese restaurant, Heweilai found its company halting its deployment of robots as they keep bumping into each other due to limited facility. 

In terms of consumers’ response to robots, the study found that consumers are positively receptive to robots in both hotels and restaurants with the majority of the respondents thinking that they lessen interpersonal interactions and the risk of getting COVID-19.

Associate professor at the School of Hotel and Tourism Management at CUHK Lisa Wan said, “Our results show that with the pandemic dominating people’s awareness, service robots could signal low interpersonal contact, reduce the perceived risk of virus transmission, and in turn increase visit intention.”

According to Wan, the findings suggest that the use of service robots could be more salient in collectivistic cultures such as China.

“This could be attributed to more reliance on interpersonal cues in decision-making for collectivists. Future research may explore the cultural impacts which will have significant theoretical and practical implications for the successful infusion of service robots in the tourism industry across cultures,” Wan said.

Furthermore, Wan suggested that there is still a lot of work to be done to learn more about intelligent automation and the consumers’ response towards service robots in the tourism industry.