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Bella Bot is a Cat Waiter at Salsa’s Restaurant in Aiken, Florida, USA

A robot that looks a little like a cross between R2-D2 of Star Wars fame and a cat is staying busy delivering plates of burritos, tacos and enchiladas to diners at Salsa’s in Aiken. The machine called Bella Bot hasn’t replaced any of the restaurant’s wait staff — she just helps them keep up with the rush of orders, reports NTV.

The feline-shaped robot is programmed to whizz over to each table, where kitchen staff load up its four large food trays that have the capacity to carry 10kg worth of items. Once the meal is served, the ‘cat waiter’ then spirits the empty dishes back to the kitchen and glides over to its next assignment.

As it moves, the robot scans its surroundings up to 5,400 times per minute, looking for obstacles such as people and tables. It uses a navigation system based on the SLAM (Simultaneous Localization and Mapping) algorithm from Pudu Robotics. If it encounters an obstacle, it can pause and reorient itself. It also uses a touch screen to take in commands.

Despite its size, the bellabot weighs just over 50kg and can run for 24 hours on a single charge. It can take in about 400 orders a day and will halt when it’s out of batteries or running low on power. It can even take in music or other audio files uploaded by customers for an extra cost.

Aside from helping restaurant employees by reducing the amount of human contact needed for serving meals, the robot can be used to promote specials, announce the availability of new products and help patients isolating in hospitals or hotels. It has a microphone that can be used to make announcements and can display digital signage with a touchscreen.

The robot is attracting attention from tourists and locals, and the company behind it has already sold 200 of them. They are being used in various countries around the world, including Canada, where one is helping staff at Smitty’s in Kelowna. Owner Pavel Prygounov says the robot has helped him boost business during the COVID-19 pandemic, with children clamouring to see it and adults coming in to have a drink or lunch.

Prygounov plans to install two more Bellas at his restaurants. He was sceptical about introducing the robot when he first heard about it, but now believes it can be an asset during the ongoing pandemic. He’s also experimenting with it at his fast-casual eatery The Sea.

While the restaurant is open, customers can stroke its head and pointy ears, which makes it meow. It is programmed to show different facial expressions depending on the interaction. It can even sing happy birthday if a guest celebrates in the restaurant. It will also respond by scratching itself if it thinks the interaction is positive.

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