It’s like a scene from Alex Proyas’ adapted version of Isaac Asimov’s legendary “I, Robot” collection of short stories: you’re in a restaurant and there are robots everywhere. EVERYWHERE!
You have your eye out for the human waiter roaming amongst the tables, for the human usher leading guests politely to their seats. You’re kind of bored already, so you go to peep at the human chef doing his thing, or the human three-piece ensemble with the Stradavarius violins, playing a soft rendition for entertainment.
But, no — you won’t find any. After all, you’re in Harbin’s Robot Restaurant, in China’s Heilongjiang Province. The only humans here are diners; the whole house is android dominion. But don’t worry — they are not bent on destroying humans, a la V.I.K.I. They love to please you.
Twenty robots deliver food to the tables, cook dumplings and noodles, usher diners, and entertain them. When a diner walks in, an usher robot extends its mechanic arm to the side and says, “Earth person, hello. Welcome to the Robot Restaurant.”
After diners have decided on what to eat, robo-chefs in the kitchen set to work cooking the dishes.
Once a dish is prepared, a robo-server, which runs along rails in the floor, carries it from kitchen to table.
As the diners relish their normal human food, a robo-Song Zuying entertains them. OK, it’s just an average droid-next-door vanilla robot.
The restaurant has gained international fame and has continued to grow in popularity since it opened last June.
Hasheng Liu, the project’s chief engineer, said about five million RMB was invested in the robots alone. Each robot unit boasts a price of 200,000 to 300,000 RMB, and they can work continuously for five hours on a single two-hour charge.
“Staff in the computer room can manage the whole robot team. After the busy routine during the day, each robot will get a ‘meal,’ which is electricity,” said Mr. Liu.
In case you feel bullied by the presence of all these automatons (they could possibly be hiding weaponry of all sorts, becoming enslaving NS-5s the next moment. Who knows?), here’s your saving grace: they are lacking in the height department, ranging from 4.3 to 5.25 feet; you can stand toe-to-toe with them and look down at their puny faces. Speaking of faces, theirs display more than 10 expressions, and they can speak basic welcoming lines to diners.
The restaurant offers a menu with more than 30 dishes, and the average cost per diner is 44 RMB.
All robots in Harbin are required by regulation to obey Asimov’s Three Laws of Robotics, so you won’t need Will Smith or Sonny anytime soon.