TEMPE, Ariz. — At Pronto by Serrano’s in Tempe, Katrina is the newest server.
The robot rolls in and out of the kitchen of the casual Mexican restaurant, delivering food to tables and assisting its human counterparts with bussing dirty dishes.
“She’s made our lives a little easier and I think the restaurant a lot more fun,” said manager Sarah Serrano Licht.
An animated face on the robot reacts to being scratched on the head like a cat. It greets people and tells jokes upon request. It can also multitask.
“She’s able to take four tables at a time, so we’re able to send four people’s food at the same time whereas of course a person would typically only take one.”
Robot service companies trying to establish a foothold in Arizona
The company behind the robot is Pringle Robots, one of several service robot companies racing to establish themselves for the future when servers like Katrina could become the norm, not a novelty.
“We are on the forefront now. Eventually every commercial vertical will have a service robot,” said robot consultant Steve Kane of Pringle Robots.
He said AI-assisted robots do the three D’s: the dangerous, the dirty and the dull. The company also has floor-cleaning robots in schools and hospitals.
“It’s going to go ahead and sweep a floor, do it perfectly, then tell you if it didn’t do it perfectly and why,” Kane said.
Robots are part of AI revolution
Service robots are a visible example of a technology that threatens to disrupt workforces globally.
Goldman Sachs economists predict 300 million full-time jobs worldwide could be automated in some way by existing AI technology, according to a recent report by CNN.
Goldman Sachs predicts white-collar workers are more at risk compared to manual laborers.
Service robots could save money but eliminate job opportunities
Former Intel engineer Habib Matar leads the AI Associate Degree curriculum at Chandler-Gilbert Community College, the first program of its kind in the country. Matar said companies need graduates who have practical knowledge of AI at the associate degree level. That demand for workers is an example of how AI technology is creating new jobs.
“It’s much like the automotive industry, which introduced a lot more jobs into the world. A lot of people think this (AI technology) is run-and-done, but there’s actually a lot of work that needs to be done to make these systems, and develop these systems,” Matar said.
At the same time, concerns about AI systems replacing specific jobs are valid, Matar said.
“We see cashiers have been replaced by automated systems.”
Pringle Robotics offers hardware, coding and training
Pringle’s corporate office is in the Midwest. It’s been in Arizona for two years. The company leases and sells robots, and oversees coding and training for clients.
As unemployment remains low, some companies are looking for robots to fill jobs no one will take such as custodial work, Kane said. Conversely, other companies want to use robots to replace human staff members.
“I’m not necessarily giving you an employee but giving you something that’s there all the time,” Kane said.
Kane predicts the capability of service robots will advance rapidly during the next five years.
“What we see on the TV or movies, we’re not quite there yet,” he said.
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