Is building a salad a problem that needs a solution?
Apparently so, according to the food robotics company called Chowbotics. The company recently debuted Sally the Salad Robot, a $30,000 machine that is part salad bar, part vending machine.
You load the 21 canisters within the refrigerated machine with salad fixings like kale, carrots or cranberries (but not whole boiled eggs or avocados -- Sally still has some problems dispensing those). Then, you use Sally's touchscreen to select the ingredients you want for a personalized salad or pick one of the five salads Chowbotics has built. Sally then dispenses the ingredients into a bowl, and, boom, your lunch is ready.
The machine can also tell you how many calories are in your salad; Sally knows what ingredients are in each canister and dispenses serving sizes based on weight.
Sally isn't meant to perch upon your countertop at home. Chowbotics wants to put the machine in cafeterias, restaurants, hotels and other commercial outlets that see customers who want a personalized meal or places that don't have food service at all, said Deepak Sekar, CEO and founder of Chowbotics. Three Sallys will make their way into the wild in the next few weeks at a restaurant called Calafia Café, a coworking space called Galvanize, and a law firm office, all in the San Francisco Bay area. Sekar said he wants to install 25 more Sallys later this year.
Is Sally the harbinger of the robot revolution? Not quite. Sally still needs a lot of human interaction to work. Someone has to wash, peel, chop and grate the ingredients, load them all into Sally, and remove them when they've gotten old. Sekar said restocking Sally would be a lot like vending machines -- food suppliers would replenish the salad ingredients like they would with soft drinks or bags of potato chips, only they would refresh Sally more often.
Sekar said he plans to make "brothers and sisters" for Sally in the future. He has his eye on a Mexican food version of the Sally and one that makes breakfast food. Whatever Chowbotics lands on, it'll have a lot of work to do to convince restaurants, offices and cafeterias that an easy dish like a salad is ripe for automation.