Robot fried chicken: entrepreneur seeks to improve S. Korea's favourite food

Robot fried chicken: entrepreneur seeks to improve S. Korea's favourite food

Kang's robot, composed of a simple, flexible mechanical arm, is capable of frying 100 chickens in two hours
Kang's robot, composed of a simple, flexible mechanical arm, is capable of frying 100 chickens in two hours. Photo: Anthony WALLACE / AFP
Source: AFP

Unlock the best of Legit.ng on Pinterest! Subscribe now and get your daily inspiration!

In fried-chicken-obsessed South Korea, restaurants serving the nation's favourite fast-food dish dot every street corner. But Kang Ji-young's establishment brings something a little different to the table: a robot is cooking the chicken.

Eaten at everything from tiny family gatherings to a 10-million-viewer live-streamed "mukbang" -- eating broadcast -- by K-pop star Jungkook of BTS fame, fried chicken is deeply embedded in South Korean culture.

Paired with cold lager and known as "chimaek" -- a portmanteau of the Korean words for chicken and beer -- it is a staple of Seoul's famed baseball-watching experience.

The domestic market -- the world's third largest, after the United States and China -- is worth about seven trillion won ($5.3 billion), but labour shortages are starting to bite as South Korea faces a looming demographic disaster due to having the world's lowest birth rate.

Read also

Colombia mulls future of massive coal mine as water dries up

Around 54 percent of business owners in the food service sector report problems finding employees, a government survey last year found, with long hours and stressful conditions the likely culprit, according to industry research.

Korean fried chicken is brined and double-fried, which gives it its signature crispy exterior, but the process -- more elaborate than what is typically used by US fast food chains -- creates additional labour and requires extended worker proximity to hot oil.

PAY ATTENTION: Share your outstanding story with our editors! Please reach us through info@corp.legit.ng!

Paired with cold lager and known as "chimaek" -- a portmanteau of the Korean words for chicken and beer -- it is a staple of Seoul's famed baseball-watching experience
Paired with cold lager and known as "chimaek" -- a portmanteau of the Korean words for chicken and beer -- it is a staple of Seoul's famed baseball-watching experience. Photo: Anthony WALLACE / AFP
Source: AFP

Enter Kang, a 38-year-old entrepreneur who saw an opportunity to improve the South Korean fried chicken business model -- and the dish itself.

"The market is huge," Kang told AFP at her Robert Chicken franchise.

Chicken and pork cutlets are the most popular delivery orders in South Korea, and the industry could clearly benefit from more automation to "effectively address labour costs and workforce shortages", she said.

Read also

Labour, infrastructure issues hold back surging Vietnam investment

Kang's robot, composed of a simple, flexible mechanical arm, is capable of frying 100 chickens in two hours -- a task that would require around five people and several deep fryers.

But not only does the robot make chicken more efficiently -- it makes it more delicious, says Kang.

"We can now say with confidence that our robot fries better than human beings do," she said.

Investing in 'foodtech'

Already a global cultural powerhouse and major semiconductor exporter, South Korea last year announced plans to plough millions of dollars into a "foodtech" fund to help startups working on high-tech food industry solutions.

Korean fried chicken is brined and double-fried, which gives it its signature crispy exterior, but the process is labour intensive
Korean fried chicken is brined and double-fried, which gives it its signature crispy exterior, but the process is labour intensive. Photo: Anthony WALLACE / AFP
Source: AFP

Seoul says such innovations could become a "new growth engine", arguing there is huge potential if the country's prowess in advanced robotics and AI technology could be combined with the competitiveness of Korean food classics like kimchi.

South Korea's existing foodtech industry -- including everything from next-day grocery delivery app Market Kurly to AI smart kitchens to a "vegan egg" startup -- is already worth millions, said food science professor Lee Ki-won at Seoul National University.

Read also

Self-driving car revolution is coming, but slowly

Even South Korea's Samsung Electronics -- one of the world's biggest tech companies -- is trying to get in on the action, recently launching Samsung Food, an AI-personalised recipe and meal-planning platform, available in eight languages.

Lee predicted South Korea's other major conglomerates are likely to follow Samsung into foodtech.

"Delivering food using electric vehicles or having robots directly provide deliveries within apartment complexes, known as 'metamobility', could become a part of our daily lives," he said.

"I am confident that within the next 10 years, the food tech industry will transform into the leading sector in South Korea."

'Initially struggled'

Entrepreneur Kang now has 15 robot-made chicken restaurants in South Korea, and one branch in Singapore.

Entrepreneur Kang now has 15 robot-made chicken restaurants in South Korea, and one branch in Singapore
Entrepreneur Kang now has 15 robot-made chicken restaurants in South Korea, and one branch in Singapore. Photo: Anthony WALLACE / AFP
Source: AFP

During AFP's visit to a Seoul branch, a robot meticulously handled the frying process -- from immersing chicken in oil, flipping it for even cooking, to retrieving it at the perfect level of crispiness, as the irresistible scent of crunchy chicken wafted through the shop.

Read also

Taiwan chip giant TSMC says Arizona plant making 'fast progress'

Many customers remained oblivious to the hard-working robotic cook behind their meal.

Kim Moon-jung, a 54-year-old insurance worker, said she was not sure how a robot would make the chicken differently from a human "but one thing is certain -- it tastes delicious".

The robot can monitor oil temperature and oxidation levels in real time while it fries chicken, ensuring consistent taste and superior hygiene.

South Korea last year announced plans to plough millions of dollars into a 'foodtech' fund
South Korea last year announced plans to plough millions of dollars into a 'foodtech' fund. Photo: Anthony WALLACE / AFP
Source: AFP

When Kang first started her business she "initially struggled" to see why anyone would use robots rather than human chefs.

But "after developing these technologies, I've come to realise that from a customer's perspective, they're able to enjoy food that is not only cleaner but also tastier", she told AFP.

Her next venture is a tip-free bar in Koreatown in New York City, where the cocktails will feature Korea's soju rice wine -- and will be made by robots.

Source: AFP

Authors:
AFP avatar

AFP AFP text, photo, graphic, audio or video material shall not be published, broadcast, rewritten for broadcast or publication or redistributed directly or indirectly in any medium. AFP news material may not be stored in whole or in part in a computer or otherwise except for personal and non-commercial use. AFP will not be held liable for any delays, inaccuracies, errors or omissions in any AFP news material or in transmission or delivery of all or any part thereof or for any damages whatsoever. As a newswire service, AFP does not obtain releases from subjects, individuals, groups or entities contained in its photographs, videos, graphics or quoted in its texts. Further, no clearance is obtained from the owners of any trademarks or copyrighted materials whose marks and materials are included in AFP material. Therefore you will be solely responsible for obtaining any and all necessary releases from whatever individuals and/or entities necessary for any uses of AFP material.

Online view pixel