At Hong Kong high-tech cafe, everything is served with microchips

HONG KONG, Oct 23, 2006 (AFP) – With a whir and a flash of lights, a robot whizzes to the restaurant table and takes a customer’s order, while a second races to another table to deliver plates of steaming food. This isn’t a scene from a science fiction book. Rather, it’s the daily routine at a new diner in a suburban Hong Kong shopping centre.

Robot Kitchen opened in July to cash in on the city’s love affair with gadgets, claiming to be the world’s first eatery staffed by machines.

“We thought robots would be a good gimmick,” said Peter Chow, who built the automatons working at the diner. “Now they have caught on, we are having to upgrade and update them.”

At the moment the diner has just two robots — Robo Waiter 1 and 2 — neither of which resemble the human-like robots one sees in the movies.

Robo Waiter 1, for instance, is a crudely designed box on wheels covered in shiny paper and with an illuminated bulb to represent a head.

The computer inside can recognise voice patterns, take meal orders and send them by infrared to the cooks in the kitchen.

It is steered by a video camera, which detects objects in its way and guides the robot around them.

Robo Waiter 2 is much the same, b