- Chowbotics has unveiled a mobile app that allows users of its salad-making robot, Sally, to place contactless orders on their smartphones, according to an emailed press release.
- The company has also developed new menu items for Sally, including choices like three bean salad, Thai noodle salad and smoked brisket.
- Chowbotics has linked up with two regional supermarket chains in recent months to provide a replacement for shuttered self-service salad bars, and is among a group of companies that in recent years have developed automated devices capable of handling tasks long carried out manually by grocery store employees or customers.
Sally grabbed attention earlier this year when its robotic salad-maker showed up at a Heinen’s supermarket in Ohio just as grocers were mothballing salad bars out of concern that self-service stations could serve as a breeding ground for the coronavirus. The machine’s ability to autonomously mix fresh ingredients on demand and deliver ready-to-eat bowls of food directly to consumers helped Chowbotics position it as a solution to the health concerns associated with surfaces touched by multiple people.
The addition of contactless ordering enhances Sally’s image by removing the need for people to place their fingers on the device to control it. Customers need only scan a QR code on the machine with their smartphone camera to let the machine know their choices and spur it into action.
Beyond adding an extra measure of safety, the touch-free technology reduces the amount of time customers spend interacting with the machine, which could allow retailers to sell more salads with Sally.
Chowbotics is testing Sally at a ShopRite store in New Jersey. It's also marketing its automated food-prep tech to non-grocery partners like Ferris State University in Michigan, which announced in September that it had installed one of the company's robots in a campus dining facility.
Chowbotics has also upgraded the device with a video screen that allows retailers to place electronic messages on it. The new interface can also be attached to Sally robots that are already in service, according to the company.
Retailers have spent the last few years experimenting with a variety of devices designed to automate parts of the grocery store experience that human workers previously had to handle. Some of these machines can handle food-preparation activities, like making smoothies or dispensing ramen, while others can take on tedious chores that workers would otherwise have to handle.
For example, Schnuck Markets has deployed a fleet of product-scanning robots from Simbe Robotics at dozens of its stores, dramatically reducing the amount of time to take inventory and freeing employees to handle other responsibilities. Sam’s Club recently decided to bring robotic floor cleaners that can double as inventory-scanning devices to all of its locations. And Save Mart is testing robots from Starship Technologies that can deliver up to 20 pounds of groceries to customers mostly without human assistance.