Twist to frozen yogurt business: Let a robot serve you

NED B. HUNTER Updated: December 11, 2012 at 12:00 am • Published: December 11, 2012

Competition in the frozen yogurt industry has been fierce in recent years, with an explosion of new self-serve shops in Colorado Springs.

Now there’s something new: robot-serve yogurt.

A Reis & Irvy’s Frozen Yogurt kiosk has been installed inside the food court at the Chapel Hills Mall on the north side of the Springs. The kiosk uses graphics and music to entertain kids and adults while a robotic arm “dances” as it pours the frozen treats into multicolored souvenir cups.

“You can’t help but smile through the whole thing,” said Victoria Harley, general manager of Chapels Hill Mall. “It has soft music, bright and colorful lights, and the robotic arm dances around, and the yogurt is fantastic.”

(Go here and click on "Watch it in action" to see a video of a Reis & Irvy's kiosk)

The robot kiosk is the creation of Allan Jones and his South Carolina company, Robofusion, and is only the second of its kind in Colorado.

The kiosk at Chapel Hills is owned by Jones’ brother, Dave Jones, who is introducing the robots into malls.

The robot serves vanilla, chocolate or swirl frozen yogurt, with multiple toppings. Each cup of yogurt costs $5.

The yogurt is served in a 12-inch, plastic souvenir cup covered with one of four graphic designs.

The robot places the yogurt and toppings in the cup in four layers. The first layer is the frozen treat, then a layer of topping, then another layer of yogurt and a final layer of topping, Dave Jones said.

People can choose from four robotic characters, each with its own dance.

Each kiosk holds about 65 servings, Allan Jones said, and can dispense between 35 and 40 cups an hour.

Allan Jones, a polymer material scientist, started Robofusion in 2005 as Puffin Innovations with two others — his brother-in-law, James Wolf, who Allan calls a “genius engineer,” and a medical doctor.

The first robotic ice cream dispenser cost $100,000, Jones said. He built his own ice cream store in Kingsport, Tenn., to introduce his robot. Owning the store gave Jones the ability to test market his first robot under his own guidelines.

“It was the ultimate in consumer testing, because it was people involved who were spending money or not spending money,” said Jones, who closed that store in 2009.

Jones’ robot kiosk won the “Best New Food Service Product” at the 2012 International Association of Amusement Parks and Attractions show in Orlando, Fla.
Allan Jones changed the name of the company to Robofusion in 2010.

Today, the company has 18 kiosks in eight states, plus one each in Brazil and Singapore.
Several locations are in Great Wolf Lodges across the United States.

The most successful, Dave Jones said, are in science centers, including one in Indianapolis and Columbus, Ohio. The company hopes to install another 100 kiosks in 2013.

“Kids love to push buttons, just watch them on an elevator,” Allan Jones said.
“So it’s fun to get it, and a fun way to have it delivered to you.”


Contact Ned Hunter: 636-0275.

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