Could Robot Dishwashers Solve Foodservice’s Labor Shortage?

Could Robot Dishwashers Solve Foodservice’s Labor Shortage?

Nala Robotics’ robot dishwasher, Spotless, is capable of cleaning, drying, stacking and storing dishes in the same time or even less time than a human dishwasher. Photo courtesy of Nala Robotics.

In a post-pandemic economy, labor is still challenging and the foodservice industry is looking to automate menial work to encourage longer employee tenure. So far, we’ve seen autonomous servers, fry cooks and even delivery robots, but what about robot dishwashers? Artificial intelligence startup Nala Robotics might be able to solve the foodservice’s labor shortage with its technology.

What are Robot Dishwashers?

As automation takes over kitchens, 61 percent of restaurant operators believe dishwashers can be automated with existing tech, according to a Capterra survey. Robot dishwashers could become the new norm thanks to technology coming out from Nala Robotics, which shifts the dishwashing responsibilities to Spotless, its robot dishwasher.

“Our revolutionary patented dishwashing system allows operators to overcome staffing challenges and never miss a smudge,” said Ajay Sunkara, CEO of Nala Robotics, in a press release. “We’ve heard countless stories from managers and owners who had to pull double duty because the dishwasher didn’t show up for work. By installing our robot, they’ll never have to worry about turnaround time and every dish will be spotless.”

Robot dishwashers
Spotless washing a wine glass. Photo courtesy of Nala Robotics.

So, how does it work? First, the robot dishwasher does a preliminary rinse and identifies the item it’s holding via a camera at the back. Then, based on whether it’s a utensil, a plate or another piece of tableware, the robot arms identify the best algorithm to handle this particular item and it begins the cleaning process. The robot also knows when to use a gentler touch as well, like for a wine glass.

According to Nala Robotics, the entire process — from cleaning and drying to stacking and storage — takes just as long (or even less time) than a human dishwasher. Spotless also requires a relatively compact operational footprint, measuring two feet by two feet. Nala’s current business model allows restaurants to lease Spotless on a monthly basis for almost $3,000 a month.

Currently, the robot dishwasher has been deployed in several non-commercial kitchens, like hospitals and living centers, and will soon be utilized at a national diner chain. The company is also working on a second mobile robot that is designed for smaller spaces and can move around from station to station to replicate human multitasking.

From Automated Dishwashing to Pizza

Robot dishwashers aren’t the only food tech product in development at Nala Robotics. The company recently announced a partnership with foodservice equipment vendor Hatco Corp. to develop a compact, fully autonomous robotic pizza making system for convenience stores, quick service restaurants, ghost kitchens and other commercial settings. 

“The all-in-one food service solution can be configured to include variations of dough, sauces and toppings,” Nala Robotics said in a press release. “The AI-based robotic arm selects and presses the dough, adds the sauce, cheese and toppings, and cooks the pizza in an Ovention oven. The pizzas are then sliced, boxed and stored in Hatco’s Pizza Locker System.”

The robotic pizza making system, called Pizzaiola, comes equipped with natural language processing features and can respond to voice menu orders at the point-of-sale (POS) or operational commands in the kitchen. Pizzaiola operates within a 10 foot by 10 foot space and can be customized as a pizzeria-style eatery with expanded menu items such as pasta, salads, burgers and wings. Monthly leasing options for Pizzaiola start at $7,000 a month.