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Next Generation Chicken: Inside the New, Baidu Robot-Powered KFC Original+

By May 10, 2016 Dining
A few weeks ago, KFC partnered with China internet giant, Tencent and opened up their first QQ-themed KFC in Shenzhen. At pretty much the same time, the popular fast food chain is also collaborating with another Chinese tech giant, Baidu, and have just launched their first concept store KFC Original+ in Shanghai.

Just how "original" is this new KFC? Just how "+" is it, you ask? In a nutshell, it's a retro-looking but high-tech fast food restaurant. It is simultaneously the past and future of your fried chicken in China. Here's a look inside...


Let's just admit that it isn't a pleasant experience to take the trip out to the National Exhibition and Convention Center, the massive venue where KFC + Baidu's brainchild is now located. I know, I know, who would travel to Qingpu for fried chicken? But aren't you a bit curious about what the next generation of fast food chains are going to be like?

KFC Original+ is near the end of Line 2, Xujingdong station. And for some reason the closest exit (4 and 5) aren't always open, so you'll need to follow the NECC Plaza sign and take a roughly ten-minute walk from exit 6. This KFC better be special.

When we went, working class people and small business owners were dragging their great bags of luggage, bustling in and out of the transit, sucking in huge gusts of construction dust as they went about their business. Right now, the NECC is hosting a big bicycle convention, and presumably, that's the main reason why this KFC was still busy after lunch hours.

Although the place is not as big as the concept might had suggested, it is quite special -- they spent a bit of effort on the interior. "Jiangnan garden design" and "neo-Chinese decor" are the aesthetic themes KFC Original+ is striving to achieve. Just look at these fancy antique Chinese ceramic drum stools:

As for the tech part of the operation, they have two kinds of automated order options on site. One is the simple self-service kiosk their competitors, McDonald's has already been rolling out across Shanghai. Another is Baidu's humanoid robot "Dumi"(度秘), an adorable WALL-E-esque little guy who uses voice recognition to take your order.

Since the store is pretty new, and the product manager was still testing it when we went, our interaction with Dumi was a bit awkward at the beginning. Due to the noisy environment, I had to push the button each time I tried the voice input, and the non-touch screen right next to it wasn't very helpful at all.

This is the face Dumi makes when he/she starts to doze off.

All the same, my commands were pretty simple and Dumi could understand my putonghua perfectly. Supposedly, you can also ask it to have a chat with you as well, but my junk food cravings were out of control and I had no time for chit-chat. So, basically, I just told it what I wanted, scaned the QR code with my WeChat wallet, and about 15 minutes later -- that's because their staff mistook the product manager's testing orders with mine and thought I wasn't a real customer -- my food came out.

That's the lesson, maybe: at the end, there's always some human involved in the process that interjects some classic human error into the equation.

They also have a hologram booth showing an animation of Dumi being dropped off from a UFO and immediately cooking up his own fried chicken bucket. Thumbs up on that. Two tables inside the restaurant even have multiple vinyl-style decks on which you can charge your phone wireless and listen to a customized KFC playlist. The future is here.

The menu here is a bit smaller than at other KFCs -- only five options so far. Set meals cost around 45rmb to 50rmb (a main, two chicken wings and a drink). Even after the 15-minute wait, mine tasted as good as it could possibly have been.

In the end, this is definitely a welcome thing if KFC can manage to speed up the ordering process a bit more. It's fun. And different. Considering the recent Baidu scandal, however, I'm a bit hesitate to hand over my chicken preferences so easily...



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