Putting Our Artificial Intelligence-Based Robot to Work

Star Trek replicator inspires Blendid

This is part two of a two-part interview with Blendid co-founder and CEO, Vipin Jain. Read part one, How Star Trek Inspired Blendid

Imagine you wanted to create a replicator like you saw on Star Trek. You’ve successfully figured out how to connect software that directs a robot, a working piece of hardware, that can execute a recipe; repeatedly, with consistent results. Now it’s time to go big.

The question was: what recipe would be the winning solution?

“We had a lot of debate around what we should make first. It came down to choosing a food category. It had to be big enough to have mass appeal, especially to millennials and centennials,” Vipin said. “And the recipe had to be complex enough that it was worth solving for potential customers.”

There were so many kinds of foods they considered, but every choice also had to be balanced against what they thought the robot could execute with outstanding results. There was a fine line between aspiration and pragmatism. With trends in food focusing on sustainability, grab and go, high nutritional value and health, blends became, excuse the pun, a natural choice.

What’s so hard about making a smoothie?

“Even though we knew going in that this was going to be a complex problem and it would take time, it has taken much longer than we had imagined. To get to the point where we had a product that could be piloted was hard work. Commercialization took even longer,” Vipin explained.

At the same time, they realized they had to navigate the regulatory health food safety environment. That presented a huge learning curve. There are several processes and certifications required by health departments and food safety regulators. Thankfully, they had a good network of experts in food service space and they managed to connect with forward-looking people on regulatory front who helped them navigate successfully.

We are working hard to meet the demand.

Blendid is installed at the University of San Francisco and at a Fortune 500 high tech company in San Jose. Both installations are popular with the “locals” who order blends from a mobile app. The blend is made while a customer makes their way to the kiosk. As soon as their blend is ready, customer’s name pops up on a digital billboard telling them to come and pick up. With great news coverage about Blendid and the robot nicknamed, Chef B, the business has generated global interest.

“We can’t build fast enough to meet the current demand,” Vipin said. “There is tremendous interest from companies, colleges and other public venues who want a way to deliver on-the-go food that delights customers. Rather than scramble to meet these requests, we are busy learning and refining from our installations to create that perfect product that will scale up. We want to make sure we are a hundred percent ready for mass production.”

It seems that Vipin and Venki’s replicator could use a replicator.

Thankfully, now they have a team that’s learning and adapting based on the field experience. The challenge, of course, is not to let the robot take over. In the words of Spock, “Computers make excellent and efficient servants, but I have no wish to serve under them.”