Robotics boss is on a roll with smart sushi

VendingBot Sushi

Supporting his studies with a monotonous job making sushi rolls by hand, alum Joey Song (MEng 2014) was inspired to find an easier way. Armed with his Mechatronics degree and a vision to think outside the (sushi) box, the co-founder and CEO of Elephant Robotics has launched the world’s first sushi vending machine. Joey tells us about his path to innovation and where it’s leading him next.  

Your VendingBot sushi vending machine is a world first – how did you come up with the idea?

When I was studying at Melbourne in 2013, I worked at SeaSalt restaurant on Lygon Street for a year. The main job for me there was to make sushi rolls. At that time I thought the work was boring and I wondered if I could create a robot to produce and sell the sushi instead. Six years later, I finally had enough resources to solve this problem. My friend Rick Zheng and I co-founded VendingBot this year and we now use a robot arm to do the sushi production and a vending machine to sell the sushi. 

There are three machines on campus at the University of Melbourne. Have you had any feedback from students who have used them? 
I’ve had feedback from University staff and students. They’ve all told me it is very convenient and cheap. Ask anyone at the Southbank campus or in the FBE building, where we’ve sold a few thousand sushi!

How did your time at the University of Melbourne studying for your Masters of Engineering help you get where you are today?
I studied Mechatronics, and I learnt how to build robots from scratch – from technology to prototypes. In detail, I learnt HAS (hardware, algorithm and software) separately: for hardware I learnt mechanical design, electronics design and manufacturing process. For algorithm, I learnt software algorithm and robotics algorithm (including traditional dynamics and kinematics). For software, I learnt to build a website and gain a basic knowledge of architecture. All of these skills have helped me a lot.

What is your favourite memory from your time at the University?My wife also studied at Melbourne – she did accounting. My favourite memory is studying with her every day in the Old Engineering Building or the Redmond Barry Building (a good place with fewer people) and we’d try to eat at every restaurant nearby. 

You and your company have been recognised with many accolades and awards, including your recent win at the Australia China Awards in the Entrepreneurship & Innovation category. What does it mean to you to win these awards?
To win these awards is the result of what we do, not the reason why we do it. But the benefit is that when building a company from zero you need a lot of trust and confidence from customers, so receiving these awards helps us to gain more trust when we sell products or services to our customers. 

What’s next for your company, Elephant Robotics? Any exciting new innovations in the pipeline?A new product will be launched on 26 December – the world's first robotic cat! Check it out here: We’ve got more products launching next year which we are very excited about.