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Yo-Kai Express' First Autonomous Mobile Ramen Vending Machine Expected to Arrive in November
The company has served more than 120,000 bowls of ramen.
Yo-Kai Express got its name from the mythical ghosts of Japanese folklore that could pop up anywhere. The vision, as Yo-Kai CEO Andy Lin explained to me back in 2019, was that his company’s hot ramen vending machines could appear anywhere to feed people at any time. But pretty soon, Yo-Kai vending machines won’t just pop up anywhere, they’ll autonomously drive to where you are.
Yo-Kai started off installing its hot ramen vending machines in corproate campuses and airports in California. But Lin has been hard at work over the past few years expanding his Yo-Kai empire and diversifying. The company has improved its machines, doubling their capacity (and adding dessert options), added mail order ramen meal kits that can be shipped to your home, and licensed out its tech platform to established ramen restaurants. As of this summer, the company said it has sold more than 120,000 bowls of ramen.
But its most interesting innovations, a mobile, autonomous vending machine dubbed Yatai and the Takumi home cooking appliance, are set to arrive later this year.
The Yatai is a self-driving version of its standalone vending machine and its mobility could open up new markets. College students could, for example, use the Yo-Kai mobile app to summon a bowl of ramen (kinda like summoning a ghost!). Students would place their order with th Yo-Kai app, provide their location and the Yatai will cook the ramen as it drives itself to the customer. When it arrives — voila! A steaming hot bowl of delicious ramen is ready to enjoy.
When it was announced, Lin projected that the Yatai would debut at the end of Q1/beginning of Q2 this year, but evidently this was delayed. Yo-Kai’s COO, Amanda Tsung, told me in an email exchange today that the company expects the first Yatai prototype is expected to arrive this November, barring any unforeseen circumstances.
Tsung didn’t say where the first Yatai would be rolling out, but given the company is headquartered in Hayward, CA, it’s a good bet that the machine will start out on some corporate or college campus in the Bay Area. Campuses would provide a good testing ground to avoid the general chaos — and regulations — around self-driving commercial vehicles on public streets.
As for the Takumi, Yo-Kai’s smart home appliance, Tsung said that device will start arriving either at the end of this year or beginning of next.
The entire vending machine space is poised to upend where and what we eat. Companies like Piestro have partnered with 800 Degrees Pizza to vend fresh hot high-quality pizza on-demand, while Chowbotics partnered with Kellogg’s to create a cereal and yogurt dispensing robot on college campuses.
Among the growing co-hort of smart vending machines, Yo-Kai is definitely a company to watch. So don’t be surprised when their machines start popping up in more locations you visit (or eventually come to you when called).
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