1. Dawn Avatar Robot Cafe
    Photo: Keisuke Tanigawa Dawn Avatar Robot Cafe
  2. Dawn Avatar Robot Cafe
    Photo: Keisuke Tanigawa OriHime robots stationed on dining tables
  3. Dawn Avatar Robot Cafe
    Photo: Keisuke Tanigawa OriHime-D robot carrying drinks
  4. Dawn Avatar Robot Cafe
    Photo: Keisuke Tanigawa DAWN Spice Curry
  5. Dawn Avatar Robot Cafe
    Photo: Keisuke Tanigawa Roast Beef Burger
  6. Dawn Avatar Robot Cafe
    Photo: Keisuke Tanigawa
  7. Dawn Avatar Robot Cafe
    Photo: Keisuke Tanigawa

4 ways DAWN Avatar Robot Café is reinventing Tokyo’s restaurant scene with robotics

With robot waiters controlled remotely by disabled workers, this Nihonbashi café is shaping a better, more inclusive future

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Written by
Emma Steen
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A café teeming with robot staff would usually prompt nervous jokes about the planet being overtaken by androids, but the visionary tech company Ory Lab begged to differ. While recent technology has given us everything from unmanned convenience stores to an 18-metre-tall moving Gundam, Ory Lab’s latest venture is one that goes beyond harnessing robotics for the sake of efficiency or novelty – they’re here to make a difference. 

Named the DAWN Avatar Robot Café – DAWN being an acronym for Diverse Avatar Working Network – Ory Lab’s new Nihonbashi venue features robot workers piloted by humans from remote locations. It’s a revolutionary model for people with disabilities, childcare obligations or other constraints that make it difficult to take up conventional jobs. 

Company co-founder and CEO Kentaro Yoshifuji got the idea to design remote-controlled robot avatars after his own experience of being bed-ridden with a serious medical condition for the greater part of three years. Not only does the café’s groundbreaking approach act as a solution for those struggling with isolation at home, it also helps create a city that’s more open and accepting.

Though Ory Lab has opened several pop-up cafés around the city in the past using the same system, Dawn is its first permanent venue, opened earlier this summer through crowdfunding and corporate sponsorships. Here’s how the café is paving the way for a more inclusive future. 

Robots run the floor but humans make the call
Photo: Keisuke Tanigawa

Robots run the floor but humans make the call

At first glance, Dawn Avatar Robot Café isn’t too different from what an average workplace looks like in this pandemic time. Here you have a few staff members holding the fort while the rest are logging on remotely (to control the robots) from their homes, which are spread out far and wide from Yamagata and Hokkaido in Japan to even Australia. 

There are robots everywhere. You’ve got the OriHime bot greeting you at the entrance when you arrive, another one to recommend popular menu items (like the glorious roast beef burger), as well as the OriHime-D robot to serve you drinks.

Unlike Pepper, the humanoid robot you’ve seen around town, OriHime’s pilots are far more pleasant to chat with, demonstrating the importance of integrating human touch with cutting-edge technology. Most of the OriHime bots even have iPads stationed beside them, so you’ll know the person piloting the robot and where they’re logging in from.

Robots can be baristas, too
Photo: Keisuke Tanigawa

Robots can be baristas, too

It’s the stuff of science fiction but we’ve finally reached the point in time when robots can now make coffee with a French press. While the café has a standard drinks counter for you to grab something quick to go, the Tele-Barista counter (open every Wednesday and Saturday) is where you can watch a mechanical barista brew coffee. 

The robot barista itself, developed by Nextage, isn’t designed to talk to customers, but that’s where OriHime comes in. An OriHime pilot will guide you through the different beans available and help you make a choice. As the Nextage Tele-Barista prepares your drink, you can chat with the OriHime and geek out about third-wave coffee culture. As the coffee seeps, your Orihime pilot will even recommend a chocolate – made by local bean-to-bar company Minimal – to pair with your brew.

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You can try out the revolutionary technology for yourself
Photo: Keisuke Tanigawa

You can try out the revolutionary technology for yourself

With a state-of-the-art system that allows remote staff members to log onto any robot in the café, pilots are able to jump between different access points depending on where they’re needed without physically having to move. When they’re not tending to customers, they can log on to robots stationed in the back room for a little water cooler talk. 

While some of the OriHime pilots are physically impaired or living with mobility issues, others just happen to have a demanding homelife or an anxiety disorder that makes it difficult to leave the house. Being disabled is not a problem at the café, as the technology allows pilots to control the robots with just eye movements. You can test the interface for yourself in the demonstration corner at the back of the café.

The café is barrier-free and fully accessible
Photo: Keisuke Tanigawa

The café is barrier-free and fully accessible

Dawn isn’t just here to provide new solutions for its employees with disabilities – the café is just as focused on improving the experience of its customers as well. With this in mind, the café offers plenty of room for wheelchair access as well as different types of seating to ensure everyone feels welcome at the café. 

Whether they’re settling down for an afternoon of remote work at the hot desks, or sitting at the bar for a cocktail (reserved for special events), every table and counter is built to be fully accessible. Handicap and wheelchair-access restrooms aren’t cutting it anymore; Dawn is here to lead the way for more barrier-free facilities in our society.

3-8-3 Nihonbashi, Chuo (Kodemmacho, Mitsukoshimae, Kanda stations). 03 3527 2136. 10am-7pm (irregular holidays). 

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