This coffee shop in Japan employs people with disabilities to direct their bot servers

Have you ever been to a restaurant that uses automated waiters to serve its guests? In Japan, there is now a coffee shop that uses robots to serve its guests. But that’s not the amazing part! Behind these bot servers are disabled “pilots” who control them remotely. How did this project originate and who is the mastermind behind it? lets take alook!

A coffee shop in Japan hires people with disabilities to run their bot servers remotely.

This coffee shop in Japan employs people with disabilities to direct their bot servers
Image credits: Life Where I’m From/Youtube

In 2018, an unusual coffee shop was opened in Japan. This cafe had robotic waiters controlled remotely by people with disabilities. The robot controllers even earn 1,000 yen (about $9) an hour, which is the standard wage rate for wait staff in Japan.

Initially, this food joint was only supposed to operate for two weeks while its creators raised money for the future of this project. Later, encouraged by all the positive feedback from customers and employees, Ory Laboratory, the company behind this project, decided to open a permanent outpost. Thus, in June 2021, “Avatar Robot Cafe DAWN ver.” in Nihonbashi, Tokyo.

The pilots behind the robots are often severely disabled, with conditions such as amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS). They can control robots wherever they are, whether at home or in hospitals where they may be bedridden or in a wheelchair. According to Ory Lab, there are currently more than 60 pilots working for them.

Robots can be actuated with eye moments as well, allowing people who cannot move to operate.

This coffee shop in Japan employs people with disabilities to direct their bot servers
Image credits:

The OriHime-D robots that power the café are about four feet tall. Their 14 combined motors allow them to do things like carry trays and pick up plates and cups. Thus, they are able to greet patrons, take orders, deliver food and drinks, and even clean tables like the regular wait staff. These little servers also have sports accessories such as scarves or headgear and ID tags with pictures of the pilots.

To enable communication between pilots and guests, the robots also have a built-in camera, microphone, and speakers. Finally, as if these features weren’t already impressive, robots can be controlled through eye movements as well. Subsequently, this allows even disabled people to work in this cafe. Besides the DAWN Café, Ory Laboratory robots also act as ushers and greeters in stores, offices, and transit stations.

Since these robots were originally created to be used in the homes of people with severe disabilities, these features make sense. However, it is truly amazing how they are now finding applications outside of these homes.

We hope that this project will give people with disabilities the opportunity to remain in employment.

Undoubtedly, people with severe disabilities are often restricted in their movements. This then constitutes a major impediment in their abilities to function or participate in the world. At the same time, other people may find it difficult to commute to work because of responsibilities such as child care. For all of these individuals, Ory Lab hopes their bots can provide new means of social engagement. In this way, their bots can give a whole new meaning to remote work.

The café project has since gained much recognition and prestige.

This coffee shop in Japan employs people with disabilities to direct their bot servers
Image credits:

Established in 1957, the Good Design Award is a leading recognition system in Japan. In 2021, the Japan Institute for Design Promotion awarded the grand prize of this award to Avatar Robot Café. The judges also praised the café as a “modern business” that helps remove obstacles faced by those who want to work but cannot. In the future, we hope that this café will serve as a springboard for expanding contact between people with disabilities and the world.


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