[BLT Insight]Collaborative robot technology for cooking in Korea

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The restaurant industry struggles to find workers even with a monthly salary of 3 million won. According to the Ministry of Employment and Labor's labor force survey, the labor shortage rate in the restaurant industry is significantly higher at 6.5% compared to the industry average of 3.6%. Furthermore, a survey conducted last year by the Korea Food service Industry Research Institute among restaurant industry stakeholders revealed that 74.9% are experiencing a shortage of labor. The restaurant industry is considered a 3D industry (Dirty, Difficult, Dangerous) with high labor intensity and poor working conditions, causing job seekers to avoid it. This labor shortage has escalated since the onset of COVID-19 and is expected to worsen in the future. To address this phenomenon, the government is providing support by changing industries restricted to foreign workers' employment into permitted industries. However, it has been found that efforts to alleviate the labor shortage are insufficient.

[Image] Current situation of shortage of restaurant industry personnel

Collaborative cooking robots are being proposed as a solution to this labor shortage. Collaborative robots are robots that work with humans, unlike conventional industrial robots (process automation), with lower technological and safety difficulties, making them applicable to various industries. Among them, collaborative cooking robots support the most specialized and labor-intensive cooking tasks in the restaurant industry, minimizing the need for labor. In the early stages, collaborative cooking robots were only capable of frying chicken or making coffee. Recently, there have been technological advancements, with robots capable of grilling meat and cooking pasta, pizza, etc., according to recipes.

[Image] Example of collaborative cooking robot

Korean robot startup AniAI Inc. (CEO Hwang Geon-pil) has succeeded in attracting investment (Series A, 15.7 billion won) with its collaborative cooking robot technology. AniAI manufactures robots that cook hamburger patties, capable of cooking 200 patties per hour. AniAI's hamburger patty cooking robot has entered Lotteria and Cry Burger, successfully becoming the world's first to mass-produce cooking robots. Based on this investment, AniAI plans to expand its business into its home country, the United States, and is currently conducting performance tests at two American franchises.

[Image] AniAI's patty cooking collaborative robot and its application

Furthermore, Korean robot companies are actively participating in the market for collaborative cooking robots. The leading company is RoboArte Co., Ltd. (CEO Kang Ji-young). RoboArte is expanding its franchise business by frying chicken with robots under the brand 'Robber Chicken'. Robber Chicken currently has 11 stores and is entering the US market. RoboArte recently developed frying-specific robot technology that can be applied to various fried foods. Through the application of this technology, productivity is expected to improve by applying cooking automation technology to various frying cooking processes.

[Image] RoboArte's collaborative cooking robot and 'Robert Chicken'

Additionally, the development of meat cooking robots by People's League Co., Ltd. (CEO Ryu Geon-hee) is active. People's League has opened a meat delivery specialty store using a meat cooking robot called 'Meatbot'. Meatbot is a collaborative cooking robot capable of grilling pork belly for 100 servings per hour, deriving cooking methods by quantifying the fat and protein ratios of pork belly using visual sensors and AI to provide optimal cooking. With the application of this robot, it was confirmed to be competitively priced about 3,000 won cheaper than nearby stores, with high ratings. People's League has developed technology to determine meat cooking based on user taste data. It is expected that this technology can be applied to cooking robots where the degree of grilling is important, such as steak.

[Image] People's League's meat cooking collaborative robot 'Meatbot'

The government has also proposed extensive support measures to foster the robot industry as a new growth engine. The Ministry of Trade, Industry, and Energy announced the 'Advanced Robot Regulation Innovation Plan' at the '3rd Regulatory Innovation Strategy Conference' and is currently providing support. Considering the rapid growth rate of the robot market, 39 out of 51 projects will be supported until next year. It is expected that companies' interest in the changing restaurant market will soon evolve into new opportunities.

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