Meet Rootsie! The autonomous food serving robot at Roots 657 in Leesburg.

Front of building of Roots 657

Rootsie the Robot with a smiling face screen with trays of foodRootsie (Segway ServeBot S1) is a robot designed by Segway Robotics, whose parent company, Segway, designs the two-wheeled personal transporters that are regularly seen in the downtowns of bigger cities, often operated by law and parking enforcement, or commuters interested in using an alternative mode of transportation.

Segway Robotics approached Roots 657, an eat-in and takeout café and market in Leesburg, VA (near Lucketts), with a different robotic concept, a food delivery drone. After Roots agreed to cater a ribbon-cutting ceremony for Xelevate, a premier drone testing, development, training, innovation, and demonstration center, only a few miles away from the café, Segway pitched the idea of a test run.

Founded by Muriel Sarmadi and Certified Master Chef Rich Rosendale, the cafe and locally inspired market offers regionally curated products, and features local artisans alongside their award-winning smoked meats, house-made soups, salads, sandwiches, and fresh-baked goods. “Segway came in and did a proof of concept for the Xelevate drone delivery,” said Sarmadi. “It was a success and there was no loss of sight! We used the drone to deliver brisket and mac and cheese to the event. After that, Segway wanted to see how else robots could be used in restaurants and did an experiment inside of Roots and it went well.”

Jackson Fu, Senior Manager for Strategic Business Development at Segway Robotics is overseeing the test case at Roots. He mentioned that this is the first time he has seen this model in a foodservice application.

“These robots are often used in nursing homes,” said Fu. “They bring residents and patients their medication, food, drinks, and snacks. They don’t replace the human interaction, but they do help with the repetitive tasks.”

Segway Robotics is a leading player in micro-mobility and develops robots that can travel 5-10 miles before needing a recharge. The company offers different product shapes for different needs and is currently partnering with Goggo, a Spanish company that offers practical, last-mile delivery solutions using autonomous robots. Segway Robotics was also approached by the Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky International Airport about bringing in robots to assist with airport needs.

L to R: Mollie Eversburg, Loudoun DED, Brandon Ferris, Loudoun DED, Muriel Sarmadi, Roots 657, Bob McCollar, Loudoun DED, Jackson Fu, Segway Robotics

Sarmadi and her team have been using Rootsie to deliver food orders to tables. The robot was originally programmed to serve only four tables but after a bluegrass concert came to town and substantially increased the restaurant’s volume of customers, they reprogrammed it to serve eight tables.

“It was a life saver. We needed a runner to expedite food out to customers,” Sarmadi reflected. “We were slammed, and we didn’t have many workers to bring the food out to the tables. Restaurants begin to back up if someone leaves their station and when you’re busy like we were that night, people needed to leave their stations to keep things going. I’m not very good with technology but setting it up and reprogramming was easy.” She laughed and said, “HadI known it was so simple, we would’ve brought it in much sooner!”

Fu explained that Rootsie works using a visual sensory system. A “tag” is preprogrammed in the robot that communicates with a “plate” installed on the ceiling. The tag provides data to Segway Robotics to run reports and logs, and using software, the plate is how information and instructions are communicated to the robot, such as telling it to serve four or eight tables. Rootsie has a camera installed on top that works with the visual sensory system to map out the area to identify the tables it should be serving; these visual sensors also detect other objects and humans to avoid collision. It can re-orient itself if tables are moved, and even if the robot gets “lost,” Sarmadi said she learned how to easily recalibrate to get it back on track. Additionally, the robots are trained in the cloud, so the software is constantly updated.

When Roots first brought Rootsie into the restaurant, Sarmadi noted that some people weren’t fans, including employees and patrons.

“The staff were initially intimidated. They thought the robot was here to take their jobs,” Sarmadi noted. “Some customers weren’t big fans either, especially kids. We had one family come back to try a Rootsie table after they decided not to the first time. In truth, it is just here to help.”

Fu said that community awareness and adoption of this type of technology are resistance factors.

“People in many industries are afraid that robots will take their jobs,” Fu explained. “When it comes to automation, repetition, and other menial tasks, it makes sense that robots take on some of those responsibilities because it is more practical. Robots like this augment the workplace and challenge people to make jobs more engaging and make room for workers to develop new skills. The robots result in more jobs being created at a higher pay because we need to hire software engineers and customer service agents. Robots are bringing additional value into the job market and in cases like Roots 657, it helps with employee shortage while also helping on the back end.”

Rootsie’s time at Roots lasted a little longer than anticipated. It was supposed to be a short test run of only a few weeks but was extended to over a month.

Sarmadi, who was awarded Citizen of the Year by the Lucketts Ruritan Club, remains excited about the opportunity to have this type of technology at Roots. She wants customers to have an entire experience, not just a meal. She reflected on what Roots means to her and her employees.

Rootsie smiling with enjoy your meal on the screen“There’s a lot that goes into it—running a restaurant. It’s not just me. It’s everyone here and the community, especially. People need to be the conduit for things. We support a lot of programs and hire locals. Roots is the first job for many of our employees and it is great to see their progression. They get this job and next thing you know they have a car or an aspiration for culinary school. It’s not just about being here but being part of the community.”

To learn more about Roots 657, visit https://roots657shop.com.

To learn more about Segway Robotics, visit https://robotics.segway.com.