Skift Take

It’s been 50 years since Limanoff first suggested Automat dining on planes, and we still have trolleys. Make what you will of that.

Fans of Automats and carousel dining will be delighted to know that, one day, we could be served our on-board snacks and beverages through a contraption hidden under the plane’s floor.

The patent filed by Sell GMBH, a German division of Zodiac Aerospace, which specialises in galleys, ovens, beverage and coffee makers, and other meal-service equipment, has filed a patent for a unique under-floor food distribution mechanism, a hybrid of a conveyor and automat machine, which will let airlines dispense food and beverage directly to passengers without trolleys and with limited human intervention.

The company states the obvious advantages to the passenger experience of unobstructed aisles, and suggests that flight attendants would be free to carry-out other in-flight service duties. It suggests that the food or beverage could even be selected on demand, perhaps though automated ordering via “computer-aided logistics.” It’s not very clear what they have in mind, but it could mean tapping a few buttons on the in-flight entertainment system to activate the plane Automat and get whatever you want when you want it.

The picture does not do it justice, which is generally a problem with patents, but we’ll just roll-on right past that.

Under-floor food dispensing Automat/Carrousel by Sell GMBH

Under-floor food dispensing Automat/Carrousel by Sell GMBH

If this Automat food service at 35,000 ft sounds very Jetson, well, it is a retro-concept.

Sell GMBH’s own patent references the invention of one Martin Limanoff in 1965 as its inspiration. Except, of course, Limanoff’s device was different enough for Sell’s own patented variation to be valid. Limanoff’s invention consisted of a square service robot which moved up and down the aisle on a monorail—and was not called Rosie.

Aircraft monorail Automat, patented by Martin Limanoff in 1965

Aircraft monorail Automat, patented by Martin Limanoff in 1965

Placed in the aisle, either one of these inventions could be problematic for passengers in Economy. Just imagine: sitting hungry on the window seat, the passenger in the aisle seat asleep, the food dispenser machine rises, is ignored and then descends, taking that tasty breakfast with it.

But Sell GMBH suggests that one version of its contraption could dispense food directly to each seat, on demand. In terms of food-logistics, this would be an improvement, but would require airlines to add extra space between seats for the Automat mechanism. Hence, the remote possibility of more legroom.

Dispensing food in this fashion would also make it more efficient for airlines to keep the galleys, where the food is prepared, in the hull. That could create more cabin room. Airlines would then have to decide whether to use that space for more seats with aisle dispensers or add sufficient room between seats for seat dispensers. As airlines get creative with the possibilities this new Automat/Carrousel contraption affords, it could even result in two new Economy cabin classes: private dining or cafeteria style.


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Tags: in-flight

Photo credit: Patent for in-flight food distribution system. Zodiac Aerospace

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