Two Months After Robots Were Introduced Into Nursing Homes, Residents Can't See Them Leaving: 'We'd Be Screwed'

Samson Amore

Samson Amore is a reporter for dot.LA. He holds a degree in journalism from Emerson College and previously covered technology and entertainment for TheWrap and reported on the SoCal startup scene for the Los Angeles Business Journal. Send tips or pitches to and find him on Twitter @Samsonamore.

elderly people in a conga line with a robot ​
Evan Xie

Labor shortages are hitting many industries hard, but in senior living homes, lack of staff is even more of a problem, especially in dining rooms. In a bid to support a sagging workforce, some senior homes run by operator Front Porch are trying out hospitality robots.

So far, the Servi robots designed by Redwood City-based Bear Robotics have received a warm reception from both guests and customers. In a two-month pilot program with senior home operator Front Porch beginning in June, four of Bear Robotics’ Servi food running and busing robots were deployed in two Front Porch locations – San Francisco Towers, and Casa de Mañana in La Jolla.

Front Porch noted in its recent report on the test program that its dining services have been “particularly hit hard” during the COVID-19 pandemic, and the organization is hoping to keep its remaining staff from burning out by supplementing their shifts with robot busboys (busbots?).

Here’s a glimpse at what the tech looks like: Servi robots have three shelves to stack dishes and can handle up to seven entrees depending on plate size, can carry up to 66 pounds, and they’re designed to be relatively compact–17 inches wide and about three and a half feet tall. A smaller version, the Servi Mini, can carry 2 trays, while its larger counterpart, Servi Plus, can handle up to 10 plates at once.

Hospitality robots are still a novelty, especially in North America. But as costs to produce critical components of these bots come down and more stressed restaurant managers see the cost-benefit analysis swing in their favor, that could change.

“The innovation that's happening within the food service industry is really impressive. This will likely become much more commonplace,” Bear Robotics’ co-founder and Chief Operating Officer Juan Higueros told dot.LA.

The goal is not to replace servers with Servi, but allow them to spend more time taking orders and interacting with the senior home residents, Higueros said. Bearing in mind that loneliness can be fatal for our aging population, and that coronavirus only further isolated people, it’s easy to see how for an elderly person living alone, even an extra five minutes chatting with someone at lunch could change the tune of their day.

Image courtesy of Bear Robotics

Every robot has sensors and three cameras that network with its AI brain to help steer itself and avoid obstacles, and an auto-return feature sends it back to its place in the kitchen when jobs are done.

In addition to Front Porch, Servi robots are currently deployed at a number of places across California, including Downtown L.A.-based restaurant Chiguacle Sabor Ancestral de Mexico, Ten-Raku Korean barbeque in Lynwood, John’s Incredible Pizza in Carson and a Denny’s location in Hawthorne.

“We do think that the United States is probably going to become the biggest market for us over the course of the next couple of years,” said Higueros. “A lot of folks see the ROI because obviously [they] have tremendous turnover,” said Higueros. “It’s kind of like an insurance policy in the sense that you at least have the food runner in place, in case they decide to leave you on a Friday night.”

Not to mention, the cost. At $25 to $30 per day the robots cost a fraction of the typical salary of a person working at a nursing home. For its part, Front Porch saved $6,665 on overtime in one month.

“In the past we would have asked a staff member to come back for a split shift after working the morning shift. Now we run with the labor we got with the support of the robots,” Front Porch noted.

Two other senior living centers not affiliated with Front Porch in L.A. are also using Servi robots: Regency Grand of Cascade Senior Living in West Covina and Merrill Gardens at Rolling Hills in Rancho Palos Verdes. Hotels also use them, some Marriott and Hyatt locations employ the robots now. In total the company has Servis active in 43 states, and aims to expand to all 50 by next year. With plans to deploy more in casinos and airline lounges all over the country.

A crucial step towards even furher adoption of waiter bots depends on how customers respond. As a 2021 Boston University Hospitality Review report noted, “consumers’ acceptance of service robots is determined not only by its functionality (e.g., perceived usefulness and ease of use), but also by social-emotional and relational elements that robots can provide.” In other words, any interaction that leaves a guest unsettled could be a setback. But, in Servi’s case, since it doesn’t mimic any humanoid features, its existence in a support capacity to human staff is more tolerable.

More than half of the residents at the communities that piloted Servi bots said it felt like the robots let them have more quality time with staff. 65.4% of residents told Front Porch the robots improved their overall dining experience. One resident anonymously surveyed said the robot was “much cuter than I thought it was going to be.” Another added there were “originally many naysayers, the chair of the committee really pushed for it [and] complainers have been won over.”

Some servers, however, found hiccups. Several noted that they felt the robots were too slow.

“At first it was great/ helpful; first courses are great, but when they couldn’t talk to each other, it got frustrating,” one server wrote. Others reported their job being “less painful” since the robots helped mitigate some of the physical labor that comes with the job.

There were, of course, some glitches too. Sometimes bumpy carpets would cause the robots to spill food. A server noted, “one robot gets lost sometimes.” Servers suggested that Bear Robotics make the robots louder, as one person saw that a robot “got very close to a resident that was walking very slowly,” but avoided a collision. But by and large the feedback was positive. One server said they wished the Servi robots were bigger so they could “fit an entire table’s worth of food without worrying about it tipping over.” Another waiter joked that the Servi could only be improved by making it able to clean the table for the waiter.

And most importantly, when servers at both senior living facilities were asked how they’d feel if the robots were taken away after the two-month pilot, the recorded response was pretty unanimous: “We’d be screwed.”

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How the 'Thrift Haul' Boosted Secondhand Ecommerce Platforms

Lon Harris
Lon Harris is a contributor to dot.LA. His work has also appeared on ScreenJunkies, RottenTomatoes and Inside Streaming.
How the 'Thrift Haul' Boosted Secondhand Ecommerce Platforms
Evan Xie

If you can believe it, it’s been more than a decade since rapper Macklemore extolled the virtues of thrift shopping in a viral music video. But while scouring the ranks of vintage clothing stores looking for the ultimate come-up may have waned in popularity since 2012, the online version of this activity is apparently thriving.

According to a new trend story from CNBC, interest in “reselling” platforms like Etsy-owned Depop and Poshmark has exploded in the years since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic and lockdown. In an article that spends a frankly surprising amount of time focused on sellers receiving death threats before concluding that they’re “not the norm,” the network cites the usual belt-tightening ecommerce suspects – housebound individuals doing more of their shopping online coupled with inflation woes and recession fears – as the causes behind the uptick.

As for data, there’s a survey from Depop themselves, finding that 53% of respondents in the UK are more inclined to shop secondhand as living costs continue to rise. Additional research from Advance Market Analytics confirms the trend, citing not just increased demand for cheap clothes but the pressing need for a sustainable alternative to recycling clothing materials at its core.

The major popularity of “thrift haul” videos across social media platforms like YouTube and TikTok has also boosted the visibility of vintage clothes shopping and hunting for buried treasures. Teenage TikToker Jacklyn Wells scores millions of views on her thrift haul videos, only to get routinely mass-accused of greed for ratching up the Depop resell prices for her coolest finds and discoveries. Nonetheless, viral clips like Wells’ have helped to embed secondhand shopping apps more generally within online fashion culture. Fashion and beauty magazine Hunger now features a regular list of the hottest items on the re-sale market, with a focus on how to use them to recreate hot runway looks.

As with a lot of consumer and technology trends, the sudden surge of interest in second-hand clothing retailers was only partly organic. According to The Drum, ecommerce apps Vinted, eBay, and Depop have collectively spent around $120 million on advertising throughout the last few years, promoting the recent vintage shopping boom and helping to normalize second-hand shopping. This includes conventional advertising, of course, but also deals with online influencers to post content like “thrift haul” videos, along with shoutouts for where to track down the best finds.

Reselling platforms have naturally responded to the increase in visibility with new features (as well as a predictable hike in transaction fees). Poshmark recently introduced livestreamed “Posh Shows” during which sellers can host auctions or provide deeper insight into their inventory. Depop, meanwhile, has introduced a “Make Offer” option to fully integrate the bartering and negotiation process into the app, rather than forcing buyers and sellers to text or Direct Message one another elsewhere. (The platform formerly had a comments section on product pages, but shut this option down after finding that it led to arguments, and wasn’t particularly helpful in making purchase decisions.)

Now that it’s clear there’s money to be made in online thrift stores, larger and more established brands and retailers are also pushing their way into the space. H&M and Target have both partnered with online thrift store ThredUp on featured collections of previously-worn clothing. A new “curated” resale collection from Tommy Hilfiger – featuring minorly damaged items that were returned to its retail stores – was developed and promoted through a partnership with Depop, which has also teamed with Kellogg’s on a line of Pop-Tarts-inspired wear. J.Crew is even bringing back its classic ‘80s Rollneck Sweater in a nod to the renewed interest in all things vintage.

Still, with any surge of popularity and visibility, there must also come an accompanying backlash. In a sharp editorial this week for Arizona University’s Daily Wildcat, thrift shopping enthusiast Luke Lawson makes the case that sites like Depop are “gentrifying fashion,” stripping communities of local thrift stores that provide a valuable public service, particularly for members of low-income communities. As well, UK tabloids are routinely filled with secondhand shopping horror stories these days, another evidence point as to their increased visibility among British consumers specifically, not to mention the general dangers of buying personal items from strangers you met over the internet.

How to Startup: Mission Acquisition

Spencer Rascoff

Spencer Rascoff serves as executive chairman of dot.LA. He is an entrepreneur and company leader who co-founded Zillow, Hotwire, dot.LA, Pacaso and Supernova, and who served as Zillow's CEO for a decade. During Spencer's time as CEO, Zillow won dozens of "best places to work" awards as it grew to over 4,500 employees, $3 billion in revenue, and $10 billion in market capitalization. Prior to Zillow, Spencer co-founded and was VP Corporate Development of Hotwire, which was sold to Expedia for $685 million in 2003. Through his startup studio and venture capital firm, 75 & Sunny, Spencer is an active angel investor in over 100 companies and is incubating several more.

How to Startup: Mission Acquisition

Numbers don’t lie, but often they don’t tell the whole story. If you look at the facts and figures alone, launching a startup seems like a daunting enterprise. It seems like a miracle anyone makes it out the other side.

  • 90% of startups around the world fail.
  • On average, it takes startups 2-3 years to turn a profit. (Venture funded startups take far longer.)
  • Post-seed round, fewer than 10% of startups go on to successfully raise a Series A investment.
  • Less than 1% of startups go public.
  • A startup only has a .00006% chance of becoming a unicorn.


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From The Vault: VC Legend Bill Gurley On Startups, Venture Capital and Scaling

Spencer Rascoff

Spencer Rascoff serves as executive chairman of dot.LA. He is an entrepreneur and company leader who co-founded Zillow, Hotwire, dot.LA, Pacaso and Supernova, and who served as Zillow's CEO for a decade. During Spencer's time as CEO, Zillow won dozens of "best places to work" awards as it grew to over 4,500 employees, $3 billion in revenue, and $10 billion in market capitalization. Prior to Zillow, Spencer co-founded and was VP Corporate Development of Hotwire, which was sold to Expedia for $685 million in 2003. Through his startup studio and venture capital firm, 75 & Sunny, Spencer is an active angel investor in over 100 companies and is incubating several more.

Bill Gurley in a blue suit
Bill Gurley

This interview was originally published on December of 2020, and was recorded at the inaugural dot.LA Summit held October 27th & 28th.

One of my longtime favorite episodes of Office Hours was a few years ago when famed venture capitalist Bill Gurley and I talked about marketplace-based companies, how work-from-home will continue to accelerate business opportunities and his thoughts on big tech and antitrust.

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