Cover This new robot cafe in Tokyo is remotely operated by people with disabilities (Photo: Courtesy of Ory Laboratory Inc.)

The Dawn Avatar Robot Cafe in Nihonbashi, Tokyo wants to create a barrier-free and inclusive Tokyo by creating more job opportunities for people with disabilities who remotely control robot avatars

Since 2018, the pop-up cafe, Dawn Avatar Cafe has been giving opportunities for people with disabilities to work as cafe staff by remotely controlling a robot server, OriHime, designed by Ory Laboratories. After several successful pop-up cafes that saw more than 5,000 people, OryLab has finally opened a permanent cafe in Nihonbashi, Tokyo which also serves as its flagship store. 

Ory Laboratories has been on a mission to "eliminate the loneliness of humankind" since 2012 and has been working with people with disabilities to provide them with opportunities so that they can socialise and work normally. Co-founder and CEO Kentaro Yoshifuji wanted to design a remote-controlled robot avatar after his own experience of being bed-ridden for three years.

This how the OriHime-D robots are born. They're 120 cm tall, equipped with a camera, microphone and speaker which allows them to communicate with customers when receiving or serving orders. They are operated remotely via the internet using simple eye movements or gestures and become avatars for the workers who cannot leave their homes due to their physical conditions. Operating the robots are not only limited to those with physical disabilities as seniors and even those who need to stay home due to childcare can also work as cafe staff.

See also: Combining Coffee And Flower Arranging, Natura Opens In Wan Chai

The previous pop-up stores only served drinks but this permanent cafe will finally be serving food that change seasonally. The menu consists of a burger, curry, poke rice plate, salad, a special kids curry plate as well as a dessert that matches the season. Inside the cafe, there are various types of chairs to sit on, power supplies and a large monitor with a fixed point camera in order to fully optimise the space for the robots. The OriHime avatars are also available in different eye colours to make them easier to distinguish and the cafe staff can choose the colour according to the mood of the day.

If you fancy a cup of coffee, you can head over to the bar and Tele-Barista section where servers control another version of OriHime to make coffee. You can choose coffee and chocolate that suits your taste and see the coffee being made and served in front of you. Meanwhile, the cafe lounge is where customers can enjoy light meals such as coffee and sandwiches. It's a place to study and relax as the seats are equipped with a power supply and WiFi is available.

As the store is controlled by people with disabilities, you can expect it to be barrier-free and accessible. The conductors, fixtures and furniture are designed with consideration for wheelchair users and both stretcher type and electric wheelchairs can enter. Assistant helpers are also more than welcome to accompany others. Power can be rented for charging medical equipment such as respirators and electric wheelchairs while a barrier-free toilet with an ostomate (assistance bed) is installed in the store.

See also: The Best Cafes And Coffee Shops In Causeway Bay

While this is a significant breakthrough for people with disabilities, cafes and restaurants with similar concepts of using robots have also popped up in other places in Asia. In Malaysia, their first robotic mixologist launched in April at Lovo, marking an innovative breakthrough in the bartending frontier.

In neighbouring Singapore, Ella, a fully automated coffee machine created by Crown Digital can prepare 200 cups of coffee in an hour—four times faster than a human barista. Ratio is also a robotic cafe and lounge, offering coffee, cocktail and various other drinks.

Hong Kong's first AI tea maker, KamChAI is capable of brewing nine Hong Kong-style milk tea cups in just 12 minutes. The robot is built by the Association of Coffee and Tea in association with the Hong Kong Productivity Council to see how the latest technology can help people and businesses. Robotea in K11 Musea is fully operated by robots with a robotic dance performance performed every hour in the store. You can order drinks, ice-cream, hotdog and gelato here.

Dawn Avatar Cafe is located on the first floor of the Nihonbashi Life Science Building 3, 3-8-3, Nihonbashihoncho, Chuo-ku, Tokyo, 103-0023. For more information, please visit the official website (only available in Japanese).

Tatler Asia
© 2022 Tatler Asia Limited. All rights reserved.