How a bowl of ramen may bring on the age of robots

Plenty USA, Inc., operator of the popular Santouka Ramen chain in the U.S., plans to launch a new version of Japan-made AI communication robot, SOTA, in the American market.

 The company has announced that the North American launch of the latest version of SOTA will be at JUNKICHI, a robatayaki izakaya restaurant in Seattle’s Capitol Hill neighborhood scheduled to open on April 15, 2018. An earlier version of the robot has been in use at the Santouka Ramen restaurant in University Village.

SOTA will be placed atop tables. The AI robot was developed to be able to recognize faces, help customers, and make sure communication with the servers goes smoothly.

A camera in SOTA’s head connects images to Microsoft Azure’s FaceAPI service to allow the robot to recognize faces. Because it can remember faces, SOTA will be able to adapt to repeat customers.  Guests can also use a smartphone app to make SOTA speak. SOTA has a number of prepared lines it delivers, but it can be told to say all sorts of things via Microsoft Azure’s Text to Speech service, meaning SOTA can have guided conversations with your table in real time.

SOTA is already a fixture at a Japanese izakaya restaurant and has been featured in the Japanese media many times. The restaurant using SOTA say it gets special requests to reserve tables with the AI robot. The restaurant reports a 10% jump in sales since it started using SOTA.

Plenty USA, Inc. is opening its first authentic robatayaki izakaya in the U.S. after launching the popular Santouka Ramen chain. Robatayaki is a traditional style of izakaya restaurant. Fresh meat, fish, and vegetables are charcoal-grilled right in front of the customers and served piping hot out of the fire as it has been done in Japan for centuries.

The JUNKICHI robatayaki izakaya will also serve an original ramen dish produced by Santouka.