Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 2 July 2020

Meet Timea, the robot waitress taking Kabul by storm

Robot is the first of its kind in Afghanistan and has earned the nickname 'Beautiful'

It has only been two weeks since Timea started her job as a waitress in a Kabul cafe, but she is on her way to becoming one of the most popular servers in the Afghan restaurant industry.

Perhaps her efficiency is the reason but it definitely is not her smile. Timea is the country’s first robot server.

Imported from Japan, Timea was taken to the Afghan capital by Ahmad Qureshi, chief executive of Times Cafe, after witnessing similar technology in restaurants abroad.

“We wanted to explore new ideas to implement in our business, so we introduced Timea and she has been a success,” Mr Qureshi tells The National. "Our customers really like her.

“People get excited when they are being served by a robot. They touch her and interact with her. They call her Nazo."

Nazo means "beautiful" in Dari, the variety of Farsi spoken in Afghanistan.

Customers marvel as Timea rolls from table to table, taking orders and serving up the fast food offered by the new cafe.

“She can operate for 12 hours on a single charge, and plugs herself into a charger when her power is depleting,” Mr Qureshi says.

“She is smart, she has sensors. If you try to block her way, she will ask you to move so she can pass. She also comes back to her station when she is free.

"Our sales have increased by 20 per cent, but not only because of Timea. We also have high quality and tasty food in our restaurant."

Timea is multilingual and has been programmed to receive orders in Dari and Pashto, Afghanistan’s two national languages, along with English.

Oblivious to the attention she attracts from the many customers thronging the Times Cafe just to get a glimpse of her, Timea politely entertains all guests.

“I feel happy to see such thing here in Kabul,” said Quyash Shaibani, 28, an engineer who was visiting the cafe with his fiancee.

“It’s a great business idea. As you can see, many of us are here just for the experience of being served by a robot."

In a city otherwise ravaged by the continuing conflict since the US invasion in 2001, the restaurant industry has been a small island of prosperity, with hundreds of new restaurants and cafes cropping up.

The competition in the industry has encouraged such innovations, much to the delight of the citizens who find moments of respite in Afghanistan’s cafe culture.

Timea has also received criticism from some on social media who see her as another invading force, taking away jobs from Afghans at a time when jobless rates are extremely high.

But Mr Qureshi defended his initiative as an investment into Afghanistan’s technology sector.

“The robot needs an operator, a computer programmer and requires an IT expert," he says.

"So in reality, we hire the services of three skilled Afghans to run this one robot. If anything we are increasing employment.

“We are also planning to increase the number of robots we use, which would mean more jobs for Afghan IT experts. Hopefully, one day we will have the capacity to produce robots here.”

Timea’s colleagues tend to agree.

“The robot has made our life easy and is serving alongside the rest of us," says Rohullah, 24, another server in Times Cafe.

“We should encourage businesses to try new things like this. These sorts of innovation bring happiness to our customers and considering all the security problems we have in this city, it is nice to be able to work in such a joyful environment."

For a country that is intimately familiar with robotics technology in warfare, Timea is a much welcome change in Afghanistan.

Mr Qureshi hopes that his robot will help to attract younger crowds to the cafe and inspire them to the IT sector.

“We wanted to motivate the younger generation who are studying IT," he said.

"We want to connect them with their field by providing a first-hand experience and interaction with a robot."

Updated: February 18, 2020 04:26 PM

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