How would you feel about robots replacing the staff in the Kelly Commons cafeteria? This is becoming a real thing at the University of Maine at Presque Isle in the fall of 2017. Instead of handing your student ID to a real person, you’ll be swiping it in a computer to gain access to the cafeteria.
Students at the University of Maine at Orono are already experiencing this. Once they scan themselves in, they approach a conveyor belt where different computers line the wall adjacent to it. Here they can order a meal of their choice based on the menu of the day. The food arrives on a conveyor belt within minutes. The food was not cooked or prepared by a person but rather a robot.
This is a new change happening within the University of Maine system. “The rise in minimum wage has caused some involuntary changes and we regret that we have to make cuts,” Ray Rice, President of the University of Maine at Presque Isle, said.
Starting in Orono, each college in the system is going to eventually change over to a cafeteria and kitchen completely operated by an automated system. The system will be introduced to UMPI in the fall of 2017.
Chris Bell, Campus Operations Officer, says that there have been mixed feelings about the automated system. “It’s been a formulating idea for about three years but it wasn’t until the minimum wage law passed that it became a solid possibility. Orono was the first to experiment for this in their spring semester,” Bell said. “There has been mostly positive responses from students but some of the older, non-students are still skeptical.”
The idea of replacing real people with robots is not new. McDonalds and other fast food chains have already installed a similar system in several locations throughout the United States. There’s been an assorted response about this. How does it affect local business? How is it affecting our economy?
“Raising the minimum wage does increase family income for many low-wage workers but it is also affecting businesses. There’s a lot of businesses and industries that just can’t afford to have that many employees. We’re just trying to compensate,” Bell said.
“The idea has been adopted across the entire University of Maine system. Between 2017 and 2019, all seven schools will eventually be introducing this system to their campus,” Rice said. “We have teamed up with Sedexo to make this possible.”
Bell explained that the Kelly Commons cafeteria will be under renovation during the summer to adhere to the new system-wide modification. “We will still have real people working but it’ll be very few. We have to have somebody to make sure all the equipment is working smoothly and someone to supervise in the case of technical issues or if anybody needs assistance,” Bell said.
The idea of a robot computer system taking over the cafeteria is going to be a great change to the campus. All foods will be cooked and served by the automation. Bell is confident that the students at UMPI will take the new renovations with optimism. “It’ll take a little while for everybody to get used to it because it’s something very different and innovative. We’ve never done anything like this before,” Bell said. “I think students will find this to be interesting and the food selection will be more customizable.”
It’s certainly a big step for UMPI as technology is quickly advancing. Some of the larger colleges such as Washington and Ohio state have already fully implemented automatic robots in several different departments on their campuses. The number of real people needed to man these positions has been rapidly declining because it’s cheaper and more efficient for businesses and college institutions to use robots. Is this a good thing? That’s entirely up to you to decide.
If you have questions, comments, or concerns contact Chris Bell or Ray Rice.