Self-Serve Salad Bars Tossed Aside for Salad-Making Robots

Although the days of self-serve salad bars and buffets may be gone, the pandemic opened new doors for food preparation technology. Among the devices developed to meet new safety standards are robots that prep and serve food. 



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Image Credit: Chowbotics

Automation is moving into all facets of life, from driverless cars to robotic assembly lines. Now it’s moving into food service. Due to COVID-19, salad bars have become scarce, but California-based Chowbotics has developed a device to bring back customizable mixed greens without leaving food exposed to germs. 

Sally the Salad Robot is an interactive robot, roughly the size of a vending machine. Inside are 22 bins, filled with fresh ingredients selected by the operator, used to create customizable salads, grain bowls, breakfast bowls, and more.

To order, customers use Sally’s embedded interactive touch screen to scroll through different menu options or build their own dish. They pay using an attached card reader. After ordering, customers place a bowl under the ingredient dispenser and watch as Sally dispenses their food. The machine uses integrated weight sensors, actuators, and pneumatic systems to ensure the right amount of each ingredient makes it into the bowl. 

Cobb salad is available from slot in robot

Image credit: Chowbotics

Serving Up Fresh, Custom Meals

Customers can also use the Chowbotics mobile app to order and purchase food from Sally. If using the mobile app, customers first pair their mobile device to the nearest Sally using the specific Robot ID located on each Sally robot. After ordering through the app, customers scan the QR code on that specific Sally robot to initiate the production of their dish. 

Each dish is made to order in front of the customer in less than 90 seconds. An active nutritional calculator adjusts calories and nutrient counts with dish customization, so customers can view the nutrition information of their specific dish on Sally’s touchscreen or the Chowbotics app.

Smart and Sanitary

Sally connects to a cloud-based computing system via Ethernet and cellular connectivity. The Chowbotics Portal will monitor and analyze a variety of data points from Sally, including ingredient stock, freshness, and internal temperature. When ingredients run low--which typically happens after the robot serves between 50 and 100 dishes--the system sends a notification to the operator, so staff can refill the low canisters. The Chowbotics dashboard also displays purchase trends, including top-selling ingredients and peak purchase times, to help companies increase their return on investment. 

The robot comes with wheels, so it can easily be moved to new locations to serve new customers. Additionally, unlike a traditional self-serve food bar, Sally can operate 24 hours a day with only occasional help from a human. All ingredients are separated into different canisters to prevent cross contamination, and ingredients are not accessible to customers. 

Salad Making in Action

Using Sally can be safer than traditional food halls and requires less staff. Sally is finding her way to college campuses, hospitals, and other businesses. Not only is Sally a fun food option, but she also reduces customer wait time and improves food safety, both of which are important amid the pandemic. 

The University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences (UAMS) installed Sally on campus due to her small size and semi-autonomous functionality. According to ​​Tonya Johnson, director of UAMS Nutrition Services, Sally is a hit and is refilled multiple times a day to keep with demand.

Oberlin College in Ohio added Sally to an existing cafe. Sally’s small size saved space and allowed the cafe to add more products to sell. Oberlin rotates Sally’s ingredients each week, and serves about 125 salads a day, according to the cafe manager

Other universities and grocery store chains, including Heinen’s and Piggly Wiggly, have added Sally robots to their facilities as well. With a small footprint and an easy user interface, Sally, and other robotic food machines, are changing on-the-go meals. 

  • Learn more about Sally the Salad Robot by Chowbotics.
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