A Japanese Café Employs People With Paralysis to Operate Robot Waiters, Providing Them With a Source of Income
A common consequence of paralysis is limited mobility and a disruption to one’s daily life. However, in Tokyo, Japan, a café has discovered a more empowering approach for individuals with paralysis to both earn a living and engage with others: remotely operating robot waiters.
Approximately 10 individuals with varying degrees of mobility limitations are employed as robot operators at the Dawn Ver café, each receiving a wage of 1000 yen ($7.66) per hour, which is the customary rate for waiting staff in Japan. The ultimate objective of the project is to increase autonomy for those with disabilities. According to the BBC, this innovative initiative has yielded positive outcomes.
Ory, a Japanese start-up, has designed robots known as OriHime-D for use in the residences of individuals with limited mobility due to disabilities. These robots are capable of executing tasks such as moving, observing, conversing with patrons, and carrying items, even if the operator can only control the robots with their eyes. These functionalities have been custom-built into the robots for deployment in cafes.
The trial program aims to explore the relationship between individuals with disabilities and robots as a means of supporting those who may otherwise be confined to their homes. The controllers of these robots reportedly have diverse medical conditions, such as spinal cord injuries and the degenerative neurological disorder ALS (amyotrophic lateral sclerosis).
The Dawn Ver café initially launched as a temporary establishment for a two-week period in 2018. However, its creators subsequently decided to establish it as a permanent fixture in June 2021. Their website highlights that the cafe employs avatar robots, OriHime and OriHime-D, to enable some of their team to work from home and medical facilities, creating a new dimension to remote working. The café’s objective is to utilize technology to facilitate novel forms of social engagement. They invite visitors to drop by and explore the potential future advancements.
The barrier-free and wheelchair accessible Dawn Ver cafe buzzes with activity, largely attributed to its robotic staff. Customers are welcomed by a robot stationed at the entrance, directed to a seat by another, and informed of daily specials and assisted with ordering by a third. Additionally, a humanoid coffee artist named Tele-Barista can also be found there.
Most of the OriHime robots at the café carry iPads, allowing patrons to become acquainted with the avatar’s operator. The atlasofthefuture publication reports that, «If someone is ordering a coffee at the Tele-Barista station, an expert guides through the different beans that are available and tells about the right chocolate that can be added to your choice of coffee.» The operators of the avatars can modify the color of their avatar’s eyes to correspond to their emotions or preferred sports teams, representing the operator’s personality.
During high school, Kentaro Yoshifuji, the CEO, and co-founder of Ory Laboratory was frequently hospitalized and absent from school for long periods. This experience motivated him to pursue robotics and «utilize technology to alleviate the challenges faced by individuals who were unable to partake in normal social activities, such as work or socializing.»