Scholars have warned that demand for low-skilled jobs will drop sharply following automation and flipping burgers is definitely on the robo-overlord menu, as CaliBurger can attest. The fast-food restaurant chain present all over the United States, but also in countries like China, Sweden, Qatar or Taiwan, said it will introduce a burger robot in fifty of its locations.
The kitchen assistant, known as ‘Flippy’, was designed by a startup called Miso Robotics which specializes in “technology that assists and empowers chefs to make food consistently and perfectly, at prices everyone can afford.”
It looks like a cart on wheels with only one arm and no legs. With six axes though, the arm has plenty of freedom of motion so the robot can perform a variety of tasks. In fact, Miso claims this robot is more akin to a self-driving car than an assembly line machine.
What they mean is that Flippy uses feedback-loops that reinforce its good behavior so it gets better with each flip of the burger. Unlike an assembly line robot that needs to have everything positioned in an exact ordered pattern, Flippy’s machine learning algorithms allow it to pick uncooked burgers from a stack or flip those already on the grill. Hardware like cameras helps Flippy see and navigate its surroundings while sensors inform the robot when a burger is ready or still raw. Meanwhile, an integrated system that sends orders from the counter back to the kitchen informs Flippy just how many raw burgers it should be prepping.
Miso engineers working on Flippy’s algorithms had to flip burgers to get in the right mindset. The video below gives you an idea how Flippy sees the grill from its point of view.
‘Flippy cooks burgers perfectly — every time’
Flippy is supposed to be a kitchen assistant and can’t replace human workers entirely — not yet, at least. A human still has to prepare the cooked burger, place cheese on the grill or add toppings like sauce. Momentum Machines, a company that has been working on its own burger bots for some years, is allegedly introducing these additional steps into its machines’ routine. It might not take too long before human presence in the burger grilling kitchen is superseded.
Moving on beyond burgers, it’s quite reasonable seeing Flippy preparing other dishes like fish, chicken, vegetables and such. Moreover, its compact size and adaptability mean that the machine can be installed in any restaurant’s kitchen as it is, with no additional hassle. Flexibility is the keyword here.
Over the next two years, Flippy bots will be installed in 50 CaliBurger restaurants around the world. One Pasadena restaurant is already enjoying the fruits of its labor. However, we can’t speak in the name of the 2.3 million likely underpaid cooks currently employed in the United States. At least, Miso’s CEO admits their product will put people out of jobs.
“Tasting food and creating recipes will always be the purview of a chef. And restaurants are gathering places where we go to interact with each other. Humans will always play a very critical role in the hospitality side of the business given the social aspects of food. We just don’t know what the new roles will be yet in the industry,” the company’s CEO and co-founder David Zito said.
Just take a look at the following promo video and tell me that human worker’s face doesn’t spell ‘show-off!’.
On a more serious note, it’s clear nobody has any idea what will happen to all these displaced jobs. Tech startups are in a competition to be as disruptive as possible with not much regard for what happens next to the industry they’re affecting. Quite frankly, that might not be their responsibility. Nobody had any beef with Henry Ford when he flooded the market with millions of Model-Ts, pulling horse and buggies out of the streets. This time, however, it looks like a whole different ball game. Artificial intelligence and robotics are disrupting multiple industries at the same time. Vehicles, health, law, food. You name it.