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Food Tech & Automation Hits SXSW
Disney robots, airport automation, Roku City, elote corndogs and more
South by Southwest brings the world of technology and entertainment to Austin every March; this year the food tech and automation industry showed up in style, bringing a bit of the robotic revolution to the Texas capital. While Doritos’ “giant vending machine” was sadly a no-show for 2023, there were plenty of other pieces of technology on display, some serving more as branding stunts, while others could be real harbingers of the future. Let’s dig in…
Disney has long been a leader in robotics and automation, dating back to the mid-century with the “Hall of Presidents” and other feats of imagineering. The company continues to push the envelope, as it debuted a new robot reminiscent of Zootopia’s Judy Hopps. Not only has this robot mastered the art of rollerblading, it can do so in a way that helps humans better accept the technology, as it appears to “learn” the wobbly skill as it starts its show, before skating off to perfection. Imagine these robots serving food at a Disney restaurant!
Controlled Environments Reign Supreme
While technologists might dream of a day where robots operate in every domain, the industry will first deploy in more closed and controlled environments, such as corporate campuses and universities. Another opportunity for food robotics is the airport space, featuring both well defined restricted areas, tight labor markets, and plenty of hungry consumers. SXSW panel “Airports: The Epicenters of the Robot Revolution!” drove this point home, updating the audience on progress from YVR and CVG Airports (serving Vancouver and Cincinnati, respectively), the latest from A&K Robotics’ in-airport transportation pod for folks with reduced mobility, and of course food delivery robots like Ottonomy’s.
Consumers & Roku Love Robots
Robots continue to be held in high regard in the average consumer’s imagination. Case in point: while smart TV maker Roku set to recreate its famous “Roku City” screensaver into an immersive experience, publications paid extra attention to the robots in the background. Sure, King Kong and Godzilla may be famous building-smashers across film history, but nothing gets the press excited like a classic robot!
Mashups Are For More than Music
While SXSW’s musicians and DJs surely played a few mashup tracks across Austin’s myriad music venues, brands were also busy smooshing flavors together. Inspire Brands might just take the cake for some of the most interesting collaborations, as the company melded elements of its constituent companies that include Arby’s, Jimmy John’s, Baskin Robbins, Dunkin’, Sonic, and Buffalo Wild Wings. Food and beverage offerings included: “Chicken & Waffle Ice Cream Cup,” “Roasted ‘Elote’ Style Corndog,” “Cold Brew Old Fashioned,” and more. If these proved popular, one can only imagine they’ll soon show up at a ghost kitchen near you.
Keep on Learnin’
South by may be over, but the event will live on in the form of its recorded sessions. OttOmate readers may be particularly interested in “Reimagining Restaurants: Shaping a Scarce Industry” and “The Tech-Savvy Community Feeding the World.”
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