A robot cook is frying to order in fast-food restaurants.
Hot off the grill: Flippy 2, a robotic fry station from California-based Miso Robotics, has been newly deployed in a Chicago White Castle location. It operates without a human in the loop to boost throughput, reduce contamination, and perform tasks traditionally allotted to low-paid workers.
Special sauce: The robot’s arm slides on an overhead rail. It grabs baskets of raw french fries, chicken wings, onion rings, or what have you, places them in boiling oil, and unloads the finished product — fried to automated perfection — into a chute that conveys cooked food into trays.
- The arm is equipped with thermal-imaging cameras and uses computer vision to locate and classify foods in the baskets.
- Miso can customize the system to recognize different foods and adjust cooking times and temperatures. The company adjusted it to prepare chicken wings for Buffalo Wild Wings.
- Flippy 2 units are available to rent for around $3,000 a month in a business approach known as robots as a service.
A chef’s tale: Flippy 2’s arm pivoted from grilling hamburgers to deep frying. In 2018, its bulkier predecessor’s first job was flipping patties at a Pasadena, California, branch of the CaliBurger chain (owned by CaliGroup, which also owns Miso Robotics). It was taken out of service the next day owing to a crush of novelty-seeking patrons and difficulty placing cooked burgers on a tray, which prompted retraining. Nonetheless, Miso’s emphasis appears to have shifted to frying, and the machine went on to prepare chicken tenders and tater tots at Dodger Stadium, and later french fries and onion rings at White Castle.
Why It Matters: Fast food’s high-output, repetitive tasks are well suited to automation. The work can be hot, grueling, and low-wage, leading to turnover of employees that approaches 100 percent annually. Fast-food restaurants in the U.S. are experiencing a wave of walkouts as workers seek higher wages and better working conditions. Robots might pick up the slack — for better or worse.
Food for thought: We’ve seen several robotics companies take off as labor shortages related to the pandemic have stoked demand in restaurants and logistics. While the machines will help feed hungry patrons, they’ll also make it harder for humans to get jobs. Companies, institutions, and governments need to establish programs to train displaced employees for jobs that humans are likely to retain.