This week “Flippy” -- which is billed as the world’s first autonomous kitchen robot -- began flipping hamburger patties in California, working alongside kitchen staff at CaliBurger’s in Pasadena, California. After months of trials, the automated kitchen assistant was flipping burgers and removing them from a hot grill after cooking them to order. Developed by Miso Robotics, Flippy is part of the company’s stated mission of “revolutionizing the restaurant and prepared food industries with innovative robotics and artificial intelligence AI solutions.”
According to a release, Miso Robotics co-founder David Zito said, “I couldn’t be more proud of my incredibly talented team for their hard work in bringing Flippy to life and we are just getting started.” Miso relied on experts from Caltech, Cornell, MIT, Carnegie Mellon, Art Center and UNC Chapel Hill.
The company describes Miso AI as a cloud-connected learning platform that powers industrial robotic arms that combines 3D, thermal and regular vision to automatically detect when raw burger patties are placed on the grill and monitors each one in real-time throughout the cooking process. The company stated that the robot alerts cooks when to place cheese on top of the burgers and when to dress a burger. It also enables Flippy to switch from using a spatula for raw meat and one for cooked meat. In addition, Flippy has the ability to clean spatulas while cooking and to wipe the surface of the grill with a scraper.
Zito said, “Our mission is to improve working conditions of chefs and line cooks with assistants, not replace them. Anyone who’s ever worked in a restaurant knows how hard the work is and the value of extra hands and that’s exactly what we built.”
The Miso Robotics press release noted that restaurants face challenges in responding to increased demand for prepared food, and also the turnover rate among employees. John Miller, the chairman of Cali Group said, “The deployment of Flippy in CaliBurger restaurants represents a major milestone in helping our staff produce mouthwatering burgers more consistently and in a timely manner. The ease of integration into our existing kitchen lines will also allow us to quickly install Flippy in more locations nationwide.” Cali Group is a holding company that owns CaliBurger and affiliated technology companies.
Automation has been introduced at other restaurant chains, such as Eatsa, while well-known restaurant chains are now considering automation. In January, Jack in the Box CEO Leonard Comma said at a conference that the chain may swap cashiers for robots while minimum wage increases affect the bottom line. Red Robin is cutting staff, including the elimination of busboys that will mean a cost savings of $8 million in 2018. Comma said, “As we see the rising costs of labor, it just makes sense" to consider adding new automated technology. Restaurant chains and other industries concerned about jurisdictions that have hiked the minimum to as high as $15 have announced similar plans. For example, Wendy’s and McDonald’s announced last year their plans to introduce self-checking kiosks at their locations.
In response to a query from Spero News, Miso Senior Manager Stephanie Cirigliano wrote that pricing for Miso’s kitchen assistants, “starts at $60,000 with a 20% recurring annual fee for Miso AI continuous learning and maintenance service. Pricing over time may adjust to reflect the various skills that kitchen assistants are trained to perform.”
By way of contrast, PayScale.com notes that the hourly wage for fast food workers in the U.S. averages about $8.28. Only one-seventh of these workers have medical coverage, while less than 10 percent get dental coverage. At a rate of $7.26 per hour, a fast food worker might earn about $15,160 per year, according to the website. At the top of the scale -- $10.07 -- fast food workers would earn about $21,508 in total pay, according to PayScale.com
According to federal Bureau of Labor Statistics, restaurant cooks receive an average of $11.61 in hourly pay, while hosts and hostesses at restaurants receive an average of $9.60 per hour, nationally.
Writing at Forbes, contributor Panos Mourdoukoutas wrote about the challenges businesses face in responding to states and locales that have raised the minimum to as much as $15 per hour. "On the surface, that’s good news for those who earn the minimum wage, like cashiers, secretaries, and mall clerks. A higher minimum wage means a higher monthly and yearly pay-check—closer to the "living wage" of $15. The trouble with these minimum wage hikes is that they disconnect pay from performance, turning business enterprises into welfare agencies. But unlike government run welfare agencies, business enterprises do not have tax payers to pay the bills. This means that they must find other ways to cope with minimum wage hikes like the substituting of workers with automation equipment and artificial intelligence software."