Fried chicken franchise KFC partners with Hyundai Robotics to develop robot chefs

By Park Sae-jin Posted : October 23, 2020, 15:21 Updated : October 23, 2020, 15:30

This picture released by Hyundai Robotics shows a collaborative robot. [Courtesy of Hyundai Robotics]

SEOUL -- Global fried chicken franchise KFC partnered with Hyundai Robotics, a major industrial robot maker affiliated with South Korea's top shipbuilding group, to co-develop collaborative robots that will help human workers prepare menus more safely and quickly.

Thanks to rapid progress in technology development, robots occupy more and more places across the industry. KFC is no exception as it endeavors to cut costs and create better hygienic cooking environments. The franchise joined hands with Baidu, a leading information technology company in China, to open a new concept store with robot servers in Shanghai in 2016, followed by the opening in September of a store in Moscow where menus are cooked and served by robots.

KFC has led digital transformation in South Korea's fast-food market by adopting digital kiosks at all outlets. Other fast-food franchises such as McDonald's and Burger King followed suit with digital kiosks that work as digital advertisement boards. Altogether, some 1,970 fast food stores in South Korea have adopted digital kiosks as of 2018, according to data released by Foodbank, a restaurant industry research firm.

Hyundai Robotics said in a statement on October 23 that the company has signed a memorandum of understanding with KFC's South Korean office to jointly develop automated chicken-frying robots. In KFC kitchens, human workers will take care of chores that require delicate handcraft work such as the seasoning of chicken meat while robots created by Hyundai Robotics will be responsible for dangerous work such as frying and grilling.

"The robots are designed to help human workers and take care of dangerous chores such as deep-frying chickens using hot oil," Oh Joon-young, a PR team official at Hyundai Heavy Industries, told Aju Business Daily. He said that robots would use artificial intelligence (AI) and deep learning technology to improve cooking skills over time.

Oh said that chef robots would be based on Hyundai Robotics' latest collaboration robot model released in September. In KFC stores with spacious kitchens, robots will be fixed to worktables while wheeled mobile collaboration robots will be deployed at stores with small kitchens.

"We've differentiated the types of robots so that human workers are not disrupted when robots swing around," Oh said. "They were designed to be safe and efficient," he said, adding robots would have various sensors embedded with vision sensing technology to recognize each food processing step.

Automation has become a new trend in South Korea's restaurant industry, with store operators adopting robot workers to increase work efficiency and process ingredients. Some are used for stir-frying or cooking soup. Hyundai Robotics has diversified its lineup to produce mobile service robots for the delivery of parcels.

Hyundai Robotics has agreed with KT, a top telecom company in South Korea, to develop service robots that can be used in hotels and restaurants. In a showcase event in May, the company's first mobile service robot, UNI, demonstrated voice responses and automatic driving through spatial mapping as well as user-friendly functions, such as text message delivery and voice guidance. UNI will be applied to hotel delivery and other services such as office guidance, security and air purifying.
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