In 1983 Pasadena, you could have Chinese food delivered to your table by robot. Yes, it seemed the future of robot servants had finally arrived — or it would have, if the robots weren't so much trouble.
Shayne Hayashi, owner of Pasadena's Two Panda Deli, purchased the Japanese robots Tanbo R-1 and Tanbo R-2 for roughly $20,000 each (that's in 1983 dollars), hoping that the novelty would make his business. And the robots apparently were a hit; they brought food to the table, told jokes (the bots could say a handful of phrases in English, Spanish, and Japanese), and danced along to disco music.
When they worked.
Apparently, the robotic employees weren't always agreeable. When they didn't understand customers' commands, they would curtly tell them "That's not my problem." Interference from police radios sometimes caused them to drop food or spin around in circles. And if someone stepped in their path as the robots headed for their destination, the Tanbos would stop in their tracks, but wouldn't continue once the obstacle was removed. Hayashi tried to sell similar robot waiters to other restaurants, but the machines required constant maintenance.
In the end, the Two Pandas robots proved more of an oddity than a harbinger. How long, though, before someone starts a restaurant where Roomba waiters carry dishes on their heads, bumping into different tables until they find the right one?
You can read more about Two Pandas' robot waiters at Paleofuture.