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Brunch with Sifted: Karakuri’s robot chef

Posted on Wednesday January 6, 2021 in In the press

Story by Maija Palmer  published by Sifted in Deeptech Analysis

Sifted has brunch with the Karakuri DK One food-making robot. What’s on the menu?

“Will it be serving you chips?” my husband asks when I tell him I am going to have brunch with a robot, a joke which, I point out, has not been funny since 1976. If ever. My Sifted colleagues, meanwhile, were wondering if we were going to have “Dalek bread”. But no, my brunch with the Karakuri DK One food-making robot arm, is in fact a bowl of muesli.

It’s a bowl of muesli and coconut yoghurt, with a helping of mixed berries on top, to be precise. Before it starts making the food, I can specify exactly how many grams I want of each thing. Then the robot arm — the first automated canteen for making meals —  whizzes around an enclosure the size of a small walk-in wardrobe taking the bowl to the different slots that will dispense the yoghurt, the muesli mix and the berries, before placing the bowl back in a small cubicle with a sliding door from which I can retrieve it.

Created by the three-year-old London-based startup Karakuri, the robot might be the closest we have got, so far, to the dream of a machine that makes you a tailored meal at the press of a few buttons. Like the Nutrimatic Drinks Dispenser in the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. Only hopefully more successful.

Karakuri control pad

Though the winter dusk is deepening outside, the machine is making us brunch. Bowls and bowls of yoghurty muesli in different combinations that we can specify on a touch screen display that is connected to the machine.  Equally it could be making us bowls of dim sum, or poke, or salad — the components and ingredients inside the machine can be changed to suit the menu, hot or cold. But breakfast bowls are a simple thing for the prototype to practice on.

Karakuri unveiled the prototype machine in December, along with a £6.3m investment, led by firstminute capital, and supported by Hoxton Ventures, Taylor Brothers, Ocado Group and the UK’s government-backed Future Fund.

It is easy to get mesmerised by the moving robot arm, but this, points out Barney Wragg, Karakuri’s cofounder and CEO, is not the clever part of the system. The arm is a pretty standard piece of equipment that you can see in industrial production lines all over the world.  The clever part is an array of sensors, motors and AI behind the scenes.

“You can get robot arms to mix and serve food. But the really difficult part in the food industry is serving exactly the right portions, weighing and measuring and dispensing them,” says Wragg.

The machines made by rival robot-kitchen company Moley Robotics, for example,  he says, still needs a human to present it with all the ingredients of the meal in the right weights and quantities. This preparation and serving part is the bit that Karakuri wants to solve, in order to make robot catering a truly useful and scalable proposition.

Prototypes for the clever innards of the DK One are littered around Karakuri’s spacious office-and-workshop space in Hammersmith. There is a machine that squeezes yoghurt through a plastic tube in a peristaltic motion, exactly the way your gut moves food through. Wragg and his team have calibrated exactly how much yoghurt comes out at each squeeze, but also they have had to make sure that the parts of the machine that come into contact with the yoghurt — e.g the stainless steel pot in which it is stirred — are easy to remove and wash in a standard dishwasher. There is no point in building a labour-saving machine that takes hours to clean afterwards.

Another type of dispenser, for nuts and berries, works a little like the penny falls machines at an amusement arcade, gently shaking the contents so that they fall in precise quantities onto the serving bowl. There are sensors and scales that measure how much has already been dispensed and adjusts the shaking — more vigorous to start with and tapering off as the bowl fills — so that you get just the right amount.

In another corner, a robot arm that is being taught how to identify varying bits of grilled chicken, pick them up and place them in another dish. This is the mundane reality of AI. Newspaper headlines suggest it is going to take over the world. Right now it is being taught the work of a junior at a chicken shop.

An automated canteen could be a useful solution for a pandemic-scarred world where people are wary of human contact. The DK-One can serve somewhere between 60-100 bowls of food an hour to customers without the need for any customer-facing serving staff. Wragg says there is interest for the machine from large restaurant chains, big catering companies that serve hospitals, schools and work canteens, as well as from supermarkets.

The interest from supermarkets is possibly the most intriguing. Supermarkets are increasingly getting into the meal kit game — Morrison’s has operated its Eat Fresh meal kit business since 2018 and Waitrose had plans to buy Mindful Chef earlier this year. A meal-making machine would potentially make the meal-kit business more scalable, although Wragg has nothing specific to announce at the moment. Karakuri does have a relationship with Ocado, though,  which owns a minority stake in the startup.

At least as important as the touch-free food service is the portion control the machine can give. Restaurants work on razor-thin margins with protein being one of their biggest costs. Accidentally give every customer a sliver too much chicken and you can easily wipe out your profits, Wragg explains.

This was what originally led him to found Karakuri. “I had a couple of friends with restaurants and I was stunned at how little data there was in the trade. I saw a restaurant as something of a food manufacturing plant, and manufacturing is all about data and controls. There is typically nothing like that in a kitchen.”

Getting accurate data on ingredient usage  — more than any labour savings — is the biggest selling point for customers, says Wragg.

“It’s a known secret of the restaurant business that there is a problem with portioning and wastage.”

One potential customer, for example, wants a solution that would dole out bowls of biryani, a mix of rice and meat cooked together, so that there are at least four but no more than six pieces of meat in each portion. Doing that requires a mix of shaking machines to serve out the food and machine vision to spot the number of meat pieces.

Wragg — who has a varied background that includes both working at Arm, the microchip architecture designer and for many years at Andrew Lloyd Webber’s Really Useful Group —  founded the company at the end of 2017 and raised the first £7.2m seed round in April 2019. A further round in December has allowed them to complete work on the first prototype. Karakuri has now raised a total of £13.5m in funding.

The team has grown from 13 people this time last year, to nearly 30. Wragg expects the company to grow to around 50 people within the next two years.

Covid has had a mixed impact on the business. On the one hand, with the restaurant trade in severe distress, there are fewer customers willing to take a risk on something as experimental as a robot kitchen. On the other hand, it has made many bigger companies aware of the need to automate their businesses. Selling to bigger companies takes longer, but Wragg is hoping to have the first installations this year.

The first DK-One was supposed to be installed in the Ocado staff canteen as a test run, but with only a skeleton staff working physically at the offices because of Covid restrictions, it didn’t seem worth doing. Instead Sifted is getting this demonstration in the Karakuri workshop. Despite the machine producing a prodigious number of breakfast bowls, nobody is actually allowed to eat anything because it would violate various food safety regulations (and also, after seeing the yoghurt squeezing through the intestine-like tubes it has started to seem less appetising).

Instead we make do with black coffee from the modest capsule coffee machine in the corner of the office. That’s a catering machine that was invented some 36 years ago, initially for the professional, specialist market, but which has subsequently become ubiquitous and changed our coffee habits for good. Wragg can only hope that the Karakuri’s machines will have anything like the same impact.

Maija Palmer is Sifted’s innovation editor. She covers deeptech and corporate innovation, and tweets from @maijapalmer

Read the original story

 

Karakuri unveils its first robotic canteen set to change the global food and hospitality industry

Posted on Wednesday December 2, 2020 in Press Releases


The UK robotics firm secures an additional £6.5m investment
to develop ways to bring the fourth industrial revolution to the food industry

Karakuri, the world leading food robotics company, is bringing the future of food to life as it lifts the lid to unveil the world’s first automated canteen to make meals, the DK-One. 

Karakuri’s robotic system will revolutionise how and what we eat in restaurants, canteens, buffets, hotels and supermarkets as demand for personalised nutrition grows and the industry’s looks for new ways to operate in a post-Covid world.

Today the company is showcasing a pre-production version of their DK-One robot, the next exciting stage in Karakuri’s journey to creating an entirely new category of made-to-order healthy convenience food.  In order to accelerate the company’s growth, Karakuri has also closed a £6.3million investment, led by firstminute capital and which includes funding from Hoxton Ventures, Taylor Brothers, Ocado Group and the Future Fund, which was developed by the UK government and is being delivered by the British Business Bank.  This investment will be used to further accelerate the development of Karakuri’s technologies and create new products beyond the DK-One.

Today’s announcement shows Karakuri’s first pre-production machine which uses the latest innovation in robotics,  sensing and control technologies to offer freshly prepared, high quality hot and cold meals, which maximise nutritional benefits, restaurant performance and minimise food waste.

The pre-production version of the DK-One is being demonstrated and evaluated by customers in Karakuri’s facility in Hammersmith, London.

Post-COVID restrictions, further on-customer-site trials of the DK-One are expected to take place in the first half of 2021.

Key features of this version of the DK-One include:

  1. Consumer flexibility and choice – The DK-One produces personalised hot and cold meals with complete accuracy of portion size, giving total traceability of ingredients, nutrients, calories and quantity of every meal.
  2. Food waste reduction – It reduces food waste through the provision of accurate portions and real-time data on ingredient usage.
  3. Improved Restaurant Performance – Optimising scarce human resources which improves thin margins for restaurateurs and provides a better working environment for employees.
  4. Safe. Hygienic. Automated – The DK-One minimises human-to-human contact during meal preparation and strictly adheres to food and safety standards for hygiene and allergen separation. The DK-One is equipped with real-time monitoring of ingredient temperatures, stocking dates and refill times.
  5. Easy to Operate – The DK-One has not only been developed to provide infinitely repeatable quality and delivery of meals but also is focused on making sure the machine’s cleanliness can be maintained all day, every day using equipment readily available in existing commercial kitchens.

Barney Wragg, CEO and co-founder of Karakuri, said, “This is one of the most highly-anticipated stages of our business and a really important step. We’ve spent time talking to our customers and industry specialists, and seen huge enthusiasm for DK-One’s potential. Now up and running, this will be the first time we can use a pre-production machine to demonstrate the DK-One’s commercial and nutritional benefits in the real world and thus demonstrate our vision for the future of food. I am proud of our amazing team for the work they’ve done to get this far this quickly, despite the challenges of the pandemic. We are all really excited to begin fulfilling our customer’s expectations.”

Professor David Lane, CBE, Director of the Edinburgh Centre for Robotics and Co-Chair of the UK Government Robotics Growth Partnership, added, “Even before the pandemic, it was clear there were many opportunities to increase sustainability, resilience and productivity in the catering industry, and to better address changing consumer tastes and lifestyles while reducing the huge amount of wastage. The pandemic has thrown up further challenges of distancing and remote working that can now readily be addressed through robotic innovation. This is why there has been a huge interest in the developments Barney and his team are innovating at Karakuri and it’s a pleasure to be supporting them in the next stage of the business”

The DK-One is the world’s first robotic solution for high throughput, fast turnaround, completely personalised, portion-controlled, volume catering.  Customers are able to customise and place their order from their phone or an in-store tablet. The robot will individually prepare each meal, selecting from 18 hot or cold ingredients with precise accuracy. The DK-One prepares multiple orders at the same time, ensuring it meets the demand of the busiest restaurants.

Karakuri is a UK robotics startup established in February 2018. It emerged from the Founders Factory venture studio with the goal of utilising groundbreaking intelligent robotics, to transform and improve ready to eat catering and, at the same time, reduce the associated food wastage. Karakuri was founded by Barney Wragg, Simon Watt and Brent Hoberman and has closed £13.5m funding including investments from Ocado, Hoxton Ventures, firstminute capital, Taylor Brothers and the Future Fund.

– ENDS –

 

Notes to Editors 

For further information, please contact Laura Moross (on behalf of Karakuri) at laura@lsmpr.co.uk/ 07969673895.

  • Images and Videos

All approved Karakuri images can be found at https://drive.google.com/drive/folders/1niK38nkqV6cIYHnUuzQ5U8Z_gNaDZgn5?usp=sharing

For Karakuri’s video content please go to

Longform with Captions and Audio:
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9Vesx0iFc5U&feature=youtu.be

Shortform, no Captions or Audio:
https://youtu.be/JidMWGlmqoc

  • About Karakuri

https://karakuri.com/

Karakuri is a UK based technology company designing, manufacturing and installing robotic automation systems for restaurants, commercial kitchens and caterers.

Born out of the Founders Factory incubator, Karakuri was founded by Simon Watt and Barney Wragg, two longtime friends and colleagues who previously worked together at ARM. In April 2018 Founders Factory invested in Karakuri and Brent Hoberman joined the board as Chairman.

  • Key Facts and figures about the DK-One

The following facts and figures are related to the current pre-production DK-One, as of November 2020. They are not indicative of the final version that will be seen in stores.

  • User-selectable portion control allows customers to adjust their meal to fit their unique dietary requirements to every order
  • Up to 18 ingredients can be dispensed per installation, with each ingredient temperature controlled
  • Each ingredient is dispatched with measured mass, providing total  control of all nutritional content
  • Dispense of any ingredient type including wet, dry, soft, or hard food onto  plates, bowls or range of meal containers
  • High throughput: up to 100 meals per hour
  • Typical meal serving time, from start to order collection  < 3mins, with a typical output of one dish every 36 seconds
  • Compact dimensions (2m x 2m), designed to be transported through standard doorways
  • Physical ingredient separation – minimising allergen contamination
  • Temperature Controlled Cold (<8℃) and hot (>65℃) food storage within the robot
  • Full tracking of customer meal from order entry to delivery with full traceability
  • Designed for easy cleaning and service in commercial environments

 

Karakuri listed in ITPro’s ‘UK tech startups to watch in 2021’

Posted on Friday September 11, 2020 in In the press

Story by Bobby Hellardpublished by IT Pro

Fintech, AI, robotic arms, and a Gmail plugin make up IT Pro’s list of new businesses to watch

It has been a trying time of late for the UK’s startup ecosystem, what with continued uncertainty surrounding a departure from the EU and a global pandemic forcing many businesses to close.

Yet, it’s fair to say, tech is one of the hardiest industries operating today, and the UK remains one of Europe’s biggest players. It has a superb track record for creating unicorns and innovative startups that, in turn, have attracted investment and mergers from around the world.

With that in mind, we’ve pulled together a list of some of the most interesting startups to emerge from the UK scene over the past year – businesses that we feel are destined for greatness…

Read the full story on ITPro.co.uk

 

Karakuri named among 50 global tech start-ups powering the new retail world

Posted on Tuesday April 28, 2020 in Karakuri News

Karakuri is among the top 50 retail tech start-ups operating globally, according to a new report published today by RWRC – home of Retail Week and World Retail Congress.

Retailers worldwide are scrutinising their business models more closely than ever, as they grapple with the impact of the coronavirus crisis and seek to deliver sales and maintain relevance among consumers.

There is a growing realisation in boardrooms that collaboration with start-ups and third parties is crucial to achieve these aims and to better position businesses within the new post-Covid-19 world of commerce.

Profiling the top 50 global retail tech start-ups, the Discovery 50 report analyses the influential role start-ups including Karakuri play in this new world.

Start-ups were judged and shortlisted by a panel of retail and business experts including retail consultant Ian Shephard, retail analyst Natalie Berg, former Morrisons CTO Anna Barsby, Co:Cubed chief executive Jeremy Basset, Retail Week head of insight Lisa Byfield-Green and more.

The report also offers advice on how leaders can open themselves up to new and different ways of thinking and the benefits this can have on the bottom line.

For instance, a 2018 report from professional services company Accenture found only 6% of corporate businesses were generating a significant proportion of their income from new activities and investments. However, this same 6% reported the strongest financial performance of all 1,440 companies Accenture surveyed.

Retail Week commercial content editor Megan Dunsby commented: “The Discovery 50 shows how start-ups can offer a lifeline for retailers.

“Now is the time for businesses to think about how they could work differently with the start-up community and build synergies; from creating a fast-track, light-touch process for forming contractual relationships to pre-allocating some funding that can be used for trials.

“Retailers should look to the Discovery 50 as a directory of the best start-ups to work with.”

_

The Discovery 50 report, published today by RWRC, showcases the world’s top tech start-ups and shines a light on innovative solutions that can support the retail sector – both during the pandemic and in the future.

  • Top 50 judged and shortlisted by a panel of retail and business experts
  • Start-ups launched on, or after, January 1, 2013, and have worked with retailers either through a pilot or full-scale solution to help them transform their businesses
  • Report serves as a directory of the best start-ups to work with, at a time when collaboration is crucial

Access the Discovery 50 report in full here.

“Heston Blumenthal wants robots to make your boring lunch” by Wired magazine

Posted on Monday February 24, 2020 in In the press

Story by published by Wired Magazine

The experimental chef has joined the board of Karakuri, a startup trying to automate the mass customisation of sandwiches and salads.

Credit: Daniel Stier

Heston Blumenthal flips through a small notebook. Inside are sketches and handwritten notes in beautiful calligraphy. On one page, he stops and indicates a mesh of thick scribbles that slowly resolves into the shape of a human skull. “Twenty-three degrees,” he says. “The angle that the spinal column enters the cranium is the same as the tilt of the earth on its axis.”

Blumenthal is one of Britain’s most famous chefs – his scientific, multi-sensory approach to cooking has won him critical acclaim, and a total of six Michelin stars for The Fat Duck and The Hind’s Head in the Berkshire town of Bray, and Dinner in London. His signature is misdirection: a tangerine is shaped from chicken liver, playing cards melt into chocolate.

But he has a wide range of interests: over the course of a couple of hours in his company, conversation veers from toxoplasmosis – an infection caused by a cat-borne parasite that can cause neurological problems in humans – to the politics of fear and irritating airline safety videos.

His latest venture involves robotics. In October 2019, Blumenthal joined the board of Karakuri, a London-based startup that wants to bring robot arms to restaurant kitchens. Co-founders Barney Wragg and Simon Watt worked together at chip-maker ARM, and in the music industry at Universal, and have backing from Brent Hoberman, the co-founder of lastminute.com and chair of Founders Forum. Karakuri has raised more than £7m in funding, and has 20 employees based in a former bicycle factory near Hammersmith, in west London.

In one demonstration, a robotic arm turns and twists to collect pick’n’mix sweets from automated dispensers. In another, a precise amount of yoghurt and granola are added to a cereal bowl. Eventually, Wragg says, the system will be able to enable mass customisation of food at restaurants, cafes and sandwich shops. Pret could be about to get predictive.

“People are much more sensitive about allergens and how their diet makes them feel,” says Wragg. “That’s putting huge pressure on the day-to-day food industry because it requires a lot more configuration.”

Credit: Daniel Stier

Karakuri’s technology is based around off-the-shelf robotic arms, which are normally found on factory assembly lines. Its key intellectual property will be in developing the infrastructure that goes around them, and building dispensers that can tackle the varying attributes of different foodstuffs: figuring out, for example, exactly how long you have to squeeze a container of mayonnaise to get precisely ten grams, or how the viscosity of honey changes depending on the temperature it’s stored at.

Food-delivery firm Ocado has made a £6m investment, and will soon be installing a robot arm in its test kitchen, where it could be used to prepare customised meals for home delivery. Right now though, Karakuri is focused on resolving a staffing problem at quick-service vendors – the kind of places where you might grab a sandwich on your lunch break. “Those restaurants, by their very nature, become very repetitive, very hard places to work,” says Wragg. “The move towards customisation actually makes those jobs more boring, and more difficult, and people are making a decision with their feet not to take those types of jobs.”

Chains and supermarkets have become experts at predicting what demand for a particular sandwich filling will be on a certain day, but they still get things wrong. “There’s a huge amount of wastage in the food chain,” says Wragg. Customisation will help improve efficiency, and Wragg says that robotics will help accelerate the adoption of big data by putting sensors on the frontline. “It’s about knowing where things are, what state they’re in, when they were grown,” says Wragg. “A lot of the good that data is going to do will be around sustainability.”

Eventually, Blumenthal hopes that robotics and artificial intelligence could have a wider impact. “We eat too much,” he says. “We do not appreciate food, and we throw food away. We need to change our relationship with food.”

Connected sensors and robotics could enable a future where you can track in real-time how your body and the microbes in your gut react to certain types of food, and where your meals could be automatically designed with your happiness in mind. Blumenthal is adamant that this shouldn’t be about prescribing people the foods they “should” be eating, though. “It’s not telling you to eat more spirulina, or not to drink or not to eat sugar. All it’s doing is mirroring and giving you the opportunity to know more about yourself.”

It’s not just sandwiches and salads. At Michelin-star level, Blumenthal says robotics will free up chefs to be more creative – to try things they couldn’t before because they would have been too difficult for humans to measure accurately or replicate consistently. “Unknowingly I created the most consistently precise, linearly driven restaurant system that exists in the world,” says Blumenthal. “Let’s get robots to do the measurement stuff for us much better than we can do, and let’s allow human beings to be human.”

Amit Katwala is WIRED’s culture editor. He tweets from @amitkatwala

Read this story on Wired.co.uk

 

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