By Ethan Gibble
The coming of a new calendar year is, for many, a time for reflecting on how far we've come within the past 365 days, and how much more we still have to accomplish. Chalk this one up under the former: At the Dalu Robot Restaurant in Jinan, China, customers are served not by a personable man or woman, but instead by a neutral, non-discerning robot.
Zhang Yongpei, the restaurant's owner, currently has more than a dozen robots operating as entertainers, servers, greeters, and receptionists throughout his establishment. Some of them ride bicycles around the room with trays of food, prompted by motion sensors to stop when a patron reaches for their dish, while others stand outside to provide a warm, electronic welcome to new and repeat customers alike. If you arrive early enough, you may even get a front row seat to watch the talking, dancing robotic entertainer.
The average cost per robot? Approximately $6000. The high price point isn't enough to deter Zhang, however, who plans to roll out 30 more robots in the coming months. He eventually wants to give the servers genuine human characteristics, and even plans on creating models that can walk up and down stairs to access various sections of the restaurant.
While these robots aren't exactly a carbon copy of C-3PO, Johnny 5, WALL-E, or any other famous self-aware android, the novelty alone is enough to pique one's interest. There will always be a place in society for the human element associated with dining out, but I bet that a waiter with infinite patience, who never allows personal troubles to adversely affect their tableside etiquette, and will never accept a tip sounds pretty appealing to a few restaurateurs out there.
If nothing else, at least the Dalu Robot Restaurant gives all of us Styx fans a place in this world where we can freely proclaim "Domo arigato, Mr. Roboto" without fielding any curious looks.More information on the Dalu Robot Restaurant can be found at http://www.cbsnews.com/stories/2010/12/22/ap/strange/main7173676.shtml.