Thursday, May 22, 2008

Strange Goings-on at Zaxby's

Zaxby's is a franchised chain of fast casual restaurants that operates in the southeastern United States. In this chain there are about 401 locations. The first Zaxby's was opened in Statesboro, Georgia, near the Georgia Southern University campus, by Zach McLeroy and Tony Townley. Its menu is built around buffalo wings and chicken fingers, including them on platters, in sandwiches, and on salads (called Zalads on their menu). Zaxby's is also well known for its wide variety of unique dipping sauces such as the original Zax Sauce. Zaxby's serves soft drinks in the Coca-Cola family. The dining rooms at Zaxby's restaurants are decorated with assorted whimsical objects and posters, which often vary in theme by location and which occasionally are regionally aware. For instance, at one location in Gainesville, Florida, objects related to the University of Florida Florida Gators are used as decorations, while at the Tallahassee, Florida location, objects related to the Florida State University Seminoles are used. Similarly, at the Orlando, Florida location, citrus-industry themed decorations line the walls.

Zaxby's are located in all of the southern states except for Louisiana, Oklahoma, and West Virginia. The company will soon be opening locations in Texas and Ohio.

The Weird Stuff....

It Has Come to This: Computer Orders Restaurant Workers Around

Hyperactive Bob, the kitchen production management computer system from Hyperactive Technologies, is now being licensed to Zaxby's, a fast-food restaurant chain with locations in the Southern states. Zaxby's has 330 counter-service chicken specialty restaurants. This artificially intelligent computer system not only takes orders, it gives them as well.

Hyperactive Bob makes use of different forms of robotics technology to help manage fast food restaurants:

  • Sensing the environment:
    The system uses robotic vision to count the cars in the parking lot, gathers feedback from employees and collects point-of-sale information in real time.
  • Artificial Intelligence:
    Hyperactive Bob analyzes historical and real-time data to learn about each restaurant individually. Hyperactive Technologies claims that HB is more accurate than most seasoned employees.
  • Taking Charge:
    Hyperactive Bob uses touch screens to tell employees what to do. Employees are instructed how much of which foods to cook; when the food is ready, they tell HB.
Hyperactive Bob operates on practical PC hardware and Windows .Net, Winnov Videum 4400 VO (4 channel video capture card), ELO Touch Screen Displays and Color 380 TV Line Cameras . According to the company, HB "leverages existing QSR infrastructure to offer a very low total cost of ownership, with little maintenance or support, and provides an accelerated return-on-investment that is realized in less than one year."

Hyperactive Bob is frighteningly close to Manna, a science-fictional system proposed by Marshall Brain in his novella-length story of the same name. In the story, Manna is a PC-based system that makes use of sensors around the restaurant to gain information; it then instructs employees.

Manna was connected to the cash registers, so it knew how many people were flowing through the restaurant. The software could therefore predict with uncanny accuracy when the trash cans would fill up, the toilets would get dirty and the tables needed wiping down. The software was also attached to the time clock, so it knew who was working in the restaurant...

Manna told employees what to do simply by talking to them. Employees each put on a headset when they punched in...
(Read more about Marshall Brain's Manna)

If you think that going through your day with a computer telling you what to do every minute sounds creepy, it gets much worse. In the story, human workers are really just the remote "manipulators" and "sensors" of the system. Hopefully, no one will tell the makers of Hyperactive Bob about the Manna story; it has too many practical suggestions for the enslavement of humans. Visit Hyperactive Technologies.


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