Unmanned noodle shops in central Shanghai were shut down soon after going into operation due to the most old-fashioned reason: bureaucracy. They had an operating license, but the wrong sort.

The Lu Dou Jiqiren Yidong Mianguan branded shops (卤豆移动面馆 or “Stewed Bean Robot Mobile Noodle Shop”), effectively noodle vending machines installed on streets and in shopping centers in Shanghai’s Xuhui district were shut down, according to ChinaNews.com (in Chinese), and signs put up by the owners Shanghai Lu Dou Food and Beverage Management Co (note: company name 噜逗, brand name 卤豆) to say:

“Due to videos of the Stewed Bean Robot Mobile Noodle Shop going viral we have attracted a lot of customers and the attention of the authorities, for which we are grateful. The testing has already been completed and we will only be temporarily closed for a few days. Once we are officially registered with Shanghai’s Market Authority we will set a date to get back up and running.”

Queues had been forming at lunchtimes for the RMB 10 bowls of noodles. The soup is kept at -18ºC and is rapidly thawed and heated along with the beef, dispensing a bowl of hot soup noodles in under a minute. Already popular among time-pressed office workers, the robots were shut down after just days of cooking, according to Xinhua (in Chinese), which said the machines were shut down because they were “suspected of exceeding their operating parameters.”

The Xinhua report suggests there could be difficulties in licensing unmanned food preparation because there is no human involved in the cooking process, which is how the sector has been monitored until now. This could become an issue as robotics, as well as new forms of retail, are being officially promoted for foreign and domestic firms in China.

Frank Hersey is a Beijing-based tech reporter who's been coming to China since 2001. He tries to go beyond the headlines to explain the context and impact of developments in China's tech sector. Get in...

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