School Of Hospitality Management Acquires Service Robot For Improved Student Learning

If you ever find yourself traveling to north campus, specifically the Mateer or Keller buildings, you may feel a bit disconnected from the rest of your peers. However, there’s a hidden gem nestled in that corner of campus that makes the walk all the more worthwhile: Cafe Laura.

Cafe Laura, housed in the Mateer Building, boasts a small coffee shop that serves Starbucks coffee and a dining room that is open for lunch most days. Visitors can select from salads, sandwiches, rotating daily specials, and more.

However, if you do travel to Cafe Laura for lunch, you might notice a strange little machine that roams around the dining room and eventually heads back to the kitchen. This guy is named Servi.

Servi was loaned to the Food Decisions Research Laboratory (FDRL), which operates out of the School of Hospitality Management, by Bear Robotics. The robot is currently slated to remain at Penn State for one year.

“We hope that continued value for student learning and research engagement can allow us to keep Servi for a longer period of time,” said professor Chandler Yu, Servi’s administrator.

Servi is incredibly hard-working. Though its charging time is only four hours, it can operate for up to 12. The robot is entirely self-driven through sensors and cameras that help it to navigate through the sometimes-confusing layout of restaurants.

The Servi robot is currently assisting the FDRL in three different observational studies. Two of these make Servi responsible for collecting dirty dishes from the dining room and returning them to the dishwashing station. Of course, this requires patrons to place their dishes on one of Servi’s trays.

From utilizing Servi in Cafe Laura, the FDRL is attempting to study how hospitality management students collaborate with the service robot and how much they can trust it. From the consumer side of things, the laboratory plans to collect survey responses from those who have dined in the presence of Servi to see how its presence affected their dining experience.

Outside of Cafe Laura, Servi is also being used in the FDRL’s sensory laboratory in order to “examine the effectiveness of [the] service robot to recommend food options,” according to Yu.

While it may seem slightly strange now, Yu made it clear that service robots will soon make their way into our everyday lives.

“Students in the hospitality management major will inevitably collaborate and work with service robots due to technology adoption, labor cost, and shortage issues in the hospitality industry,” Yu said.

Servi’s presence allows Penn State students to learn how to work with a service robot and how to manage both their human and robotic employees when they step into leadership roles.

In the future, assuming Penn State can keep Servi for a longer period of time, Yu expressed interest in taking the service robot to places where hospitality students are interns or to alumni workplaces for additional research projects.

Currently, Cafe Laura is closed in between semesters but will reopen on Tuesday, May 30, for patrons to eat lunch and visit with their new favorite service robot.

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About the Author

Haylee Yocum

Haylee is a 2024 graduate of Penn State with a degree in immunology and infectious disease. She relocated to Williamsport but will not be taking any questions about what’s next in her career. Haylee continues to be fueled by dangerous amounts of caffeine and dreams of smashing the patriarchy. Any questions or discussion about Taylor Swift’s best songs can be directed to @hayleeq8 on Twitter if you must.

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