Food robotics startup Karakuri unveils automated canteen, plus $8.4M investment led by firstminute

Last week I witnessed for myself how a new kind of robot really could — as sci-fi has been telling us for many years — create and serve us food. Today, Karakuri, a food robotics startup, unveils its first automated canteen to make meals: the “DK-One” robot. It’s also revealing an $8.4 million (£6.3 million) investment, led by firstminute capital, which includes funding from Hoxton Ventures, Taylor Brothers, Ocado Group and the U.K.’s government-backed Future Fund. It has now closed a total of £13.5 million in funding.

Karakuri’s robotic system has been initially designed to make breakfast bowls. But the technology will end up being employed in a large array of scenarios, including restaurants, canteens, buffets, hotels and supermarkets. Possibly even tending vertical farms. Its particular strength is in being able to create extremely tailor-made combinations of food, putting “personalized nutrition” within practical reach. Remember those movies where the food is tailored by a robot? That.

The post-COVID world is also highly likely to embrace this technology due to the robot’s inherent cleanliness and efficiency, compared to human-made food. That said, Karakuri is not positioned to replace humans but to augment them, taking on the boring and repetitive tasks which typically see kitchen staff have far more itinerant careers due to the sheer pressure of low-level jobs where a robot would be far more suitable.

The DK-One robot is Karakuri’s first pre-production machine, which uses the latest in robotics, sensing and control technologies. It’s capable of creating high-quality hot and cold meals, which maximize nutritional benefits, restaurant performance and minimize food waste.

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

The DK-One robot zips around a circular enclosure at a rate of knots, each time measuring accurate portion sizes as determined by an app, where the customer can tailor to their tastes. It means anyone ordering something would be able to track the ingredients, nutrients, calories and quantity of literally every meal.

Up to 18 ingredients can be dispensed per installation, with each ingredient temperature controlled. It will dispense of any ingredient type, including wet, dry, soft or hard food onto plates, bowls or a range of meal containers.

Because it’s so accurate it therefore reduces food waste around portions and allows for real-time data on ingredients. The thin margins restaurateurs typically have could be improved by using such a robot in repetitive tasks, and means employees can be tasked with more complex and fruitful and fulfilling work. It’s also easily integrated into existing commercial kitchens.

Barney Wragg, CEO and co-founder of Karakuri, said in a statement: “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.”

Karakuri was founded by Simon Watt and Wragg, two longtime friends and colleagues who previously worked together at ARM. In April 2018 the Founders Factory venture studio invested in Karakuri and Brent Hoberman joined the board as chairman (and is also listed as a co-founder).