Smoothie-making robot arrives on the USF campus: cool technology or job killer?

SAN FRANCISCO -- Silicon Valley is automating the food world with artificial intelligence. This week, a startup called Blendid, launched a smoothie-making robot on the University of San Francisco's campus.

"Chef B is working on three different orders right now. The Classic, Strawberries and Cream and The Foggy Don," explained Vipin Jain, while observing his smoothie kiosk at The Market Cafe on campus.

'Chef B' is the name of Jain's smoothie-making artificial intelligence, which USF students are testing, one order at a time. There are currently eight fruit and veggie blended concoctions, which include ingredients like chia and kefir.

Jain says 'Chef B' can blend 35 to 45 smoothies per hour with a robot arm that dispenses ingredients, washes blenders, and pours smoothies into cups, which it then pushes across a counter to a window, where it's ready for pick-up. Customers can place their orders through an app and pick up immediately or at a scheduled time.

"Let Chef B handle the repetitive, mundane tasks," said Jane who admits that his technology replaces lower-paying smoothie-making jobs, but adds that new kinds of employment are created.

"What you do in the process, is you create higher quality, higher paying jobs, this is what robotics and AI does."

"AI is the future," exclaimed USF freshman Ryan Dirhalal, while he was taking a sip of his first AI smoothie.

"Although it might replace someone who blends your juice, it's creating a lot of other jobs and opportunities that will just further our economy."

Priana Aquino is also a first year student at USF student and after waiting for a smoothie that 'Chef B' never delivered, she arrived at a different conclusion about artificial intelligence.

"This Blendid thing just crashed and a lot of people actually didn't end up getting the smoothies that they ordered. So you do have to question the reliability of it and whether it's actually the moral thing to do for people that are looking for jobs in the San Francisco economy."

Blendid has hired five USF student brand ambassadors to educate customers about the technology and help people place orders at the kiosk.

Jain says Blendid's 'Chef B' is a franchise business model. He says one kiosk costs $70,000 and calculates that after selling smoothies at $6 each with a $1.50 to $2.00 profit, the franchise owner would recoup the startup cost in 9 to 11 months. Of course that model hasn't been tested. So far, Jain and his team are still working out kinks in their system after two days of operating with a hungry group of student customers.

Blendid says USF did not pay for the kiosk on campus, since they're just in the testing phase. Blendid is working with campus food management company, Bon Appetit, to roll out the product.

Eventually Jain envisions Chef B's anywhere people go and expect food. "Company cafeterias, college cafeterias, supermarkets, health clubs, airports, stadiums and theatres."
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