Rosie the Robot

By Chris Kopacz, Butler Eagle Staff Writer

Rosie the RobotThe addition of a robot server at Lutheran SeniorLife Passavant Community conjured memories of “The Jetsons” for residents, according to Rebecca Hlavach, General Manager of Dining Services for Passavant Community.

It took some residents time to acclimate when Passavant “hired” the robot to serve on a trial basis at Baron’s Inn restaurant last May, but the new team member invited curiosity and fun, Hlavach said.

“We had a little name-the-robot competition with our residents,” she said. “They came in. They did a meet-and-greet and had an opportunity to meet her. We unveiled the robot name, and everyone really enjoyed seeing Rosie navigate the dining room.”

Rosie, of course, would take her name from “The Jetsons,” a Hanna-Barbera cartoon launched in the 1960s that featured a light-blue robot with a Brooklyn accent.

For others, the adjustment felt a little strange, Hlavach said. They worried the robot was taking over a human’s position, she said.

“But something we communicated at the time was that we had lots of open positions at the time and still now,” she said.

Rosie extends the life of the human servers at Baron’s Inn, Hlavach said. For some servers, food service at Baron’s Inn is their first job. Collaboration with Rosie allows for Rosie to carry food and drinks alongside the human servers, so they don’t have to worry about dropping or spilling as they work, she said. Instead, these servers get to spend more time socializing with residents, she said.

Just another member of the team

“Not only does it save a little bit on labor, but she extends the life of our servers,” she said. “So people with mobility issues — as they age in the workforce — sometimes they have to shift or change jobs. And so it allows people to stay in a position longer as Rosie takes on the heavy burden.”

Now, instead of the astonishment that used to attend Rosie’s excursions throughout the dining room, her role has become just another part of the Baron’s Inn’s regular service, neither novel nor strange.

Rosie brings a bit more to the proverbial table than busing dishes, Hlavach added.

“Rosie also sings ‘Happy Birthday,” Hlavach said, and laughed. “We can program that tableside, which is a lot of fun.”

Passavant purchased Rosie’s services through a company called Bear Robotics, which transported Rosie with relative ease and trained staff on how to operate her. This work involves resetting her, troubleshooting and making varied use of her features.

Special capabilities

“We chose Bear because it has a really small footprint, so Rosie takes up no more than a regular-sized person, or about the size of a bar tray,” Hlavach said. “In the dining room, she’s able to navigate between tables and chairs relatively easily. Also, she’s the only robot that is certified by the National Restaurant Association.”

This means Rosie’s thoughtful design equipped her with larger wheels, so she could overcome bumps, and a jogging stroller, so she could handle larger gaps or spaces without spilling food from the trays she carried, Hlavach said. The designers at Bear also covered Rosie’s wheels close to the ground, so that food debris wouldn’t get clogged into her wheels, Hlavach said.

People also expressed reservations that visually impaired people might trip over Rosie, but she’s found a path around those worries, too, Hlavach said.

“Rosie is equipped with LIDAR — radar — detectors and several cameras, pointed in different angles, so that the robot will move out of the person’s way, so the person is always prioritized,” Hlavach said.

A small light, which projects onto the floor, and music Rosie plays as she travels also signal people about her movements, Hlavach said.