Dining with a robot

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Well before the onset of this global emergency, Chinese e-commerce giant Alibaba Group was at work on new formats for large retail outlets - under its HeMa brand - where even the internal restaurants were designed with innovative, high-tech formats.

The design is Italian: international design firm Area-17 Architecture & Interiors of Florence developed one of the most innovative projects for the Chinese group's catering outlets, the Hema Robot Restaurant, on the second floor of a branded location overlooking the central plaza of the NECC, the new National Convention and Exhibition Center in Shanghai.

The restaurant's key feature is the automated process which transports meals from kitchen to table. A large number of specially designed robots move along rails in the working spaces that branch out towards the tables in the dining-room, delivering every specific order, ready to eat.

The project's key feature is the variety of methods for delivering the meal required, further to an order placed using the proprietary App: from table service to take-away, and from storage in the locker to delivery inside the exhibition centre. The Robot Restaurant is one of the solutions to the challenges inspired by Alibaba's New Retail model, in which the integration of online, offline, logistics and data in a single value chain creates greater business opportunities.

The interior design enhances the futuristic nature of the restaurant's concept, with high-tech materials and finishes, especially in the area served by the robots. Here, the walls are covered with a continuous band of corrugated sheet metal, reflecting the blue of the metal tube ambient lighting in the ceiling.

Large windows open onto the kitchen and logistics area, focusing attention on efficiency, food safety and transparency of operations, all central to Chinese retail brand's policies. A carefully designed layout ensures the smooth conduct of activities and the management of flows without interfering with the robot routes, and without sacrificing important focal points in the overall design.

The project is completed by a food hall connected to the Robot Restaurant, which houses other catering brands to complete the offering. Here the hospitality and seating accommodation are flexible and at times more informal, offering different levels of privacy. The entire commercial area is connected to a HeMa convenience store, FreshHippo, on the lower floor, which is also part of the innovative project for the NECC and features a layout specifically designed for the transit areas, aimed to maximise the efficiency of the purchasing experience.


Photo Crediti: Maurizio Picci