LYNNWOOD — This waitress sings, juggles three trays and pulls 10-hour shifts, diligently and without tips.
What’s up with that?
A robot named Peanut is the serving sensation at the new Sushi Hana in Alderwood Plaza.
You can hear her chipper tune as she glides down the aisles, greeting new diners with cups of ice water.
Peanut is about 4 feet tall. She moves swiftly and surely. Pure artificial intelligence in motion.
“She’s pretty smart,” restaurant owner Sarah Lee said. “It’s part of the entertainment for the kids. Adults, too.”
Warning: You’ll be whistling that catchy jingle long after you leave.
“The song is for a safety issue,” Lee said. “People don’t hear anything. She has to sing loud enough.”
Peanut is programmed with the layout and to follow directions.
She’s less RoboCop and more Rosey as she patrols the restaurant, making sure everyone has a drink and good time.
“Here comes the little Peanut. Cute and smart,” the robot says.
If someone is in her way, front camera sensors prompt her to stop or try to go around. She won’t run into you, but you can bump into her. That’s why she doesn’t deliver bowls of hot broth or noodles that could topple.
Peanut efficiently chats up the customers.
“Your delicious meal is here,” she says. “Please tap screen to confirm.”
Then she’s off.
“Enjoy your meal,” she says.
She takes pride in her work.
“Excellent little Peanut completes the job,” she says at the docking station.
While Peanut works the aisles, a monorail train system works the other side of the table. Food, made to order, arrives on the inside track.
An iPad affixed to the table takes the orders. There are over 90 types of sushi items, plus noodles, hot dishes and favorites such as Japanese fried chicken and calamari. The screen shows the price and ingredients. Tap, add and send.
In the kitchen, robotic appliances make rice balls and sheets for the sushi rolls.
Robots have not taken over. There are humans doing what robots can’t do. (Humans need tips, so please leave a gratuity.)
It takes skilled hands to cut, roll, create and cook. Typically, there are six chefs during the week and nine on the busy weekends.
“In less than 10 minutes we can have 200 or 300 orders, easily,” Lee said.
The restaurant seats 148, with pickup and delivery options.
Peanut frees up the servers.
“We can clean the table. We can focus on the customer more,” Lee said. “One Peanut can save one labor.”
On a recent weekday when both lunchtime servers called in sick, Peanut stayed busy but not stressed. She gets charged overnight and stays juiced until closing time.
This is the second Sushi Hana location operated by Lee and her husband Sam, the main chef. Their two children, 15 and 17, pitch in.
Their first Sushi Hana, opened in 2010 in Bothell at the Fred Meyer complex on Maltby Road, had a conveyor belt that was pretty sci-fi at the time. In a 2020 remodel, the monorail system was added. A robot server is expected soon at the Bothell site.
Lee explains to diners how to use the high-tech system.
“It was fun. It was different,” said CarlaRae Arneson, visiting Lynnwood Sushi Hana for the first time with her son Levi, 12.
“It was actually really cool,” Levi said.
Peanut is a H.A.R.T. Service Robot. H.A.R.T. stands for Hospitality Assistance Robot Tech.
She came prenamed as Peanut. Lee chose the female voice option and the song that swirls in your head for days.
Peanut switches to the birthday song when she brings a celebratory cupcake or a sweet treat to the table.
Not all robots are created equal.
Rosey, the mouthy but lovable blue maid robot on “The Jetsons,” cleaned, dated, danced and did homework. The show premiered in 1962 and was set 100 years in the future in the year 2062. That used to seem like a long way off.
Robots have expanded way beyond the cartoon and sushi circuit. About 50 Chili’s restaurants are using Rita the Robot servers. Packages are delivered by robots, which are part of the workforce at warehouses. Robots make automobiles and perform surgeries. They shelve books, mix cocktails and drive cars.
The artificial intelligence writing program ChatGPT is making headlines, and maybe even writing them. In a nanosecond, the chatbot does the writing for you, be it poems, blogs or research papers, which is why the program is banned by Seattle public schools and others.
I was tempted to use ChatGPT to write this story so I could spend the afternoon napping after a delicious sushi meal.
Someday a bot will take my job, no dout with fewr typos.
Is there a person, place or thing making you wonder “What’s Up With That?” Contact reporter Andrea Brown: 425-339-3443; firstname.lastname@example.org; Twitter: @reporterbrown.
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