Japanese fast food chain’s new robot worker helps people sick and stuck at home continue to earn

Mos Burger’s robot cashier will be operated by people unable to leave their homes because of sickness.

Later this month, Mos Burger, Japan’s most popular domestic hamburger chain, will be welcoming a new employee, named OriHime. That spelling, with two capital letters, might seem unusual, but it’s just the first of many surprises, and the second is that OriHime is a robot.

OriHime will be working the register at Mos Burger’s Osaki branch in downtown Tokyo, not far from the company’s headquarters, taking orders and answering questions customers might have about the menu.

Naturally, she’ll be dressed in uniform, with a neatly tied apron, jaunty cap, and a “wakaba mark,” the green-and-yellow leaf-shaped insignia that denotes trainees and other workers who’re new at their position.

However, just because OriHime is working at Mos doesn’t mean the company is trying to take human workers out of the equation. Just the opposite, really, as the robot is instead being installed as a way to let people who can’t commute continue working and earning.

Manufactured by Tokyo-based Ory Lab, OriHime isn’t automated, but remote controlled. According to Ory’s press release the Mos Burger OriHime will be operated in shifts by two workers half-way across Japan, one in Osaka Prefecture and one in Hyogo Prefecture, who are both “unable to leave their homes due to illness.”

While the specific natures of their illnesses aren’t disclosed, between both people being energetic enough to work remotely, and the current health climate, it seems possible that the program is an attempt to help service industry workers who’re being required to quarantine at home due to coronavirus exposure maintain a source of income.

This isn’t the first time Ory has been involved in this sort of initiative. In 2018, some of the company’s other robots staffed a cafe in Tokyo while being controlled remotely by paralyzed people who were able to operate them using only their eyes.

The Mos Burger OriHime will be working as a one-month pilot program, with its first day on the job July 27, and its shifts from 2 to 6 p.m., Monday to Friday.