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New soba noodle-making robot at Japan train station eatery can cook 150 servings an hour

A two-armed robot is seen placing soba noodles in a strainer at the Sobaichi Perie Kaihimmakuhari eatery at JR Kaihimmakuhari Station in Chiba's Mihama Ward on March 10, 2021. (Mainichi/Toshikazu Yamada)

CHIBA -- A two-armed robot is helping to prepare soba noodles at an eatery at JR Kaihimmakuhari Station in this city's Mihama Ward, capably boiling the noodles in a strainer, rinsing them and then dipping them in iced water.

    The Sobaichi Perie Kaihimmakuhari eatery implemented a collaborative cooking system, with the robot cooking the food and employees adding the dipping sauce or soup and toppings. It is apparently the first time for the cooking robot to be introduced in an actual restaurant setting.

    Soba stands at railway stations usually have to deal with a constant stream of customers and work under time pressure, resulting in a chronic shortage of human resources. To address this issue, JR East Start Up Co., which invests in and works together with startup companies, and Connected Robotics Inc., which develops cooking robots for restaurant businesses, began to develop the system in autumn 2019. They obtained cooperation from JR East Foods Co., which operates soba outlets at railway stations, and conducted a demonstration experiment at one eatery in Tokyo in 2020.

    The robot fetches soba noodles from a box with one arm, and places it in a strainer. Then with the other arm, it picks up the strainer and boils the noodles for a minute and 40 seconds, rinses off the viscous film on the surface and then dips the noodles in iced water to bring out their firmness. The robot can cook 150 servings in an hour, substituting the work of about one employee.

    Connected Robotics commented, "Not only can it tackle the shortage of human resources, it can also cook without any human contact and is therefore useful in reducing the risk of coronavirus infections." JR East Foods, meanwhile, explained, "We aim to implement it (the robot) at 30 stores by the end of fiscal 2025."

    (Japanese original by Toshikazu Yamada, Chiba Bureau)

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