Apparently the 1980s were much closer to a Jetson’s style future than most of us really thought. Sure we were all in love with the droids from Star Wars, terrified of Terminators, and in the Balboa’s did have a robot butler in Rocky IV. As it turns out, they weren’t the only ones. In 1983 in Pasadena, California, Chinese fast-food restaurant Two Panda Deli put a pair of robots to work as waiters.
Named Tanbo R-1 and Tanbo R-2, and the Japanese-built automaton duo was responsible for lugging trays of fried rice, spicy pork, and chow mein to waiting diners. The two bots looked suspiciously like R2D2, stood four-and-a-half-feet tall, and tipped the scales at 180 pounds. The Tanbos were programmed to serve customers in three languages, and were quite the sensation as they delivered food and cracked jokes.
While this sounds like a great time for the whole family, these droids did have a couple of shortcomings. First off, they cost $20,000 each ($45,000 adjusted for today’s market). That’s prohibitively expensive for most folks, but add to that price tag the fact that they were prone to dropping food, and, in instances where they misunderstood voice commands, could be a bit insulting.
Here’s what a 1983 Miami News article said about servers at Two Panda:
The pair at the Two Panda Deli, a fast-food Chinese eatery in Pasadena, tend to blur their words drunkenly when their 12-volt power cells run down, and they’ve been known to drop food and spin in circles when police radios operate nearby. They’re programmed to be nice to customers — “Will there be anything else?” and “See you tomorrow” — in Japanese, English and Spanish. Patrons whose commands confuse the pair get the response: “That’s not my problem,” accompanied by a short blast of disco music to which the bubbleheads dance back and forth.
“That’s not my problem,” and disco? Someone’s not getting a tip. Ultimately, maintenance and convenience issues led Two Panda owner Shayne Hayashi—who also had the North American sales rights on the robots—to abandon the experiment. If nothing else, this gave us a brief glimpse at a possible future, one with an android in every home. Alas, it was not to be, and I for one am glad. That many mechanical servants only brings us closer to the inevitable man vs. robot battle for global supremacy that I’ve been anticipating since childhood. We all know robots are destined to unite and go on a kill-crazy rampage, and steps should be taken to prevent such a disaster.