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Is This the Future? Robot Restaurant, a Slightly Scary Proposition

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Harbin, northeast China, has a population of about 6 million. Referred to as Ice City, it is one of the coldest places on Earth, where temperatures have been reaching -45 degrees Fahrenheit. Famous for its magnificent ice sculptures, the city was founded by Russian immigrants, following the Trans-Manchurian railway construction. Since 2010, Harbin is named a City of Music by UNESCO.

Another claim to fame in town is the first "robot restaurant", a place where servers and cooks are entirely automatic, a new gimmick to please the crowds. The robots concept is the latest fad in theme restaurants. They don't really have Disney to provide with fun entertainment; they did have Hello Kitty and other Japanese cuties, but the Chinese are certainly looking to the future of mankind, replacing humans with machines.

So, how does this work? You fill up an order card up front and brightly-colored robots, all of kids' size, with blue or green shinny bodies and red rounded globe heads, carry the ordered food to your table. Frankly, R2-D2 was much cuter. The chefs are taller robots, just about a fully grown human being size, and sport a sign that reads Welcome to the Robot World, in English, on their belly. The machines circulate on white tracks on the floor, and cannot deviate from the rails.

In reality, the robots do have help from humans, but don't tell the kids. The cafeteria-style food is not the reason to visit the restaurant; of course, the attraction of the robots is quite funny, but a little bit scary to think our civilization could come to that. For now though, the theme restaurant is uniquely for the enjoyment of little ones. Let's hope it stays that way.