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Local food vendor faces off against B.C.’s first robotic froyo machine

Cookie vendor optimistic despite rise of the automated food industry

Natalie Ho and her friend share frozen yogurt in front of Rob Syvertsen's pastry stand in Building A at Langara. Photo: Patrick Penner
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Reported by Patrick Penner

The battle between man and machine is raging in the grand hall of Langara’s Building A.

Rob Syvertsen’s Vietnamese pastry stand is facing off against the new frozen yogurt machine for the attention of the school’s sweet tooth.

B.C.’s first robotic frozen yogurt machine was put into Building A this November. It offers six frozen yogurt options that can be customized with toppings, and takes up about five square meters.

Syvertsen is confident the treats baked by his wife’s human hands will outsell his faceless competitor. He’s a regular vendor at Langara’s United Way Craft Fair.

“[The machine] was busy but it wasn’t doing as well as we were,” he said.  “It’s interesting, it puts on a spectacle, it gets a lot of attention… it’s also selling frozen yogurt in the middle of November.”

Service industry is becoming increasingly automated

This man’s battle with a single machine is a microcosm of the worries many Canadians have about future automation in the service industry.

A 2016 study by the Brookfield Institute for Innovation and Technology says that food service is ranked third among “high risk” industries predicted to be hurt in the next 10 to 20 years.

The study says future automation will hurt 40 per cent of the Canadian workforce.

Although Syvertsen admits the automation affects some, he feels his niche market is safe.

“It’s inevitable [automations] going to come,” Syvertsen said.  “There’s always going to be room for artisans, people who are creating something different and unique.”

But Langara student Natalie Ho sided with the machines, she said convenience is a huge factor in her decision making these days.

“If I saw a machine I would choose by the machine, it’s easy to me,” Ho said.  “Anything that’s easy is normal.”

Syvertsen does admit he recognizes the expediency factor machines offer consumers today.

“If I go to Starbucks, I quite honestly like being able to log onto my phone, place an order for my drink and pick it up as I’m going along,” he said.

On the other hand, Langara student D.J. Kaur says she prefers human service as she doesn’t trust the freshness of goods stored behind thick glass.

“In the machine, you don’t know how long it has been stored,” Kaur said.  “Outside it’s fresh, you can feel it, you can touch it.”

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