TRAVIS AIR FORCE BASE, CA, UNITED STATES
Story by Hun Chustine Minoda
TRAVIS AIR FORCE BASE, Calif. – Travis Air Force Base’s Monarch dining facility is the first in the DOD to acquire “Alfred,” an automated food preparation robot designed to improve production and quality of operations, reduce food waste and lower risks of viral and microbial transmissions.
“Alfred” was designed and created by Dexai Robotics, a Boston-based startup company that was contracted by the Defense Logistics Agency. The company uses hygienic robot arms to automate food preparation activities.
“As we are the first in the DOD to receive this revolutionary robotics technology, the main purpose for ‘Alfred’ is proof of concept,” said Maj. Hewko Tyler, 60th Force Support Squadron operations officer. “Will ‘Alfred’ be able to provide the reduction in food waste, improvements in sanitation and manning benefits as projected? We are excited to find out and be on the forefront of the future of food service.”
The Monarch DFAC has many operations from within the kitchen, so their staff has to have a strategic plan to maximize their airmen’s time.
According to Tech Sgt. Hurtado, Monarch DFAC manager, one of the benefits of having the robot is that it can free up an individual to focus on a heavier task like manning the grill, preparing an entrée or responding to flight kitchen meals.
“I think the military can benefit from something of this sort [robotics],” said Hurtado. The Airmen are tasked with so many things every single day as far as getting the mission done, training, taking leave, and focusing on our families. We get pulled in so many different directions that anywhere where we can free up some time is a benefit to us.”
The COVID-19 pandemic caused a lot of safety and health concerns in the food industry. The robot’s proof of concept touchless user interface can alleviate some of the customer’s worries.
“It lowers the transmission risks of germs and diseases thus improving the health and safety of the food our customers eat,” said Hewko.
According to Yuki Yamada, Dexai Robotics chef de technologie, the most important features currently are consistency and safety, to alleviate concerns with self-serving salad bars and crowded dining facilities.
During his visit to the Monarch DFAC, Yamada highlighted the exciting opportunity with this pilot program is the chance to shape the product, given that it’s the first installation. Whatever the DLA and the Air Force find to be the most appealing feature — maybe it’s the speed, the safety, or the sanitation — the Dexai team can focus on that as part of their product development and improve long term success since guidance from the field is critical to shape the product’s most needed capabilities.
If the Monarch DFAC achieves success with “Alfred,” other military bases will follow their lead. The proposal is to roll out and install 10 robots in different military DFACs.