Slaving over a hot and dangerous grill may soon become more of a hobby for humans than a paid profession. It’s hardly an exclusive to tell you that robots and AI are coming for your job, but at the same time this robot from Miso Robotics is a timely reminder of just how versatile they can be.
The robot’s name is Flippy, and it flips burgers, in much the same way that a robot would probably christen me “Typey,” because I spend a lot of my time writing. In both our cases, we’re quite a lot more than that: not only does Flippy use its thermal sensors, 3D sensors and cameras to differentiate between foodstuffs, it will plate up the burgers too, ready for the chefs to put the finishing touches. Flippy doesn’t know how much ketchup you like, or whether you’re the kind of weirdo who thinks an egg belongs in the mix, so that work is outsourced. For now.
It has a veritable Swiss army knife full of kitchen tools to use, including tongs, grippers and scrapers – and a pneumatic pump allows the robot to switch them around for the task in hand. On top of that, it uses Miso’s Robotics’ AI. This should allow Flippy to learn how to recognize and cook different things over time. A slightly pink burger is a delightful treat, but a pink piece of chicken is a recipe for an unpleasant few days ahead.
“We focus on using AI and automation to solve the high pain points in restaurants and food prep,” Miso Robotics CEO, David Zito, told TechCrunch. “That’s the dull, dirty and dangerous work around the grill, the fryer, and other prep work like chopping onions. The idea is to help restaurants improve food quality and safety without requiring a major kitchen redesign.”
With plenty of these robotic innovations, it’s a case of “nice idea, but it won’t work in the real world”. That’s demonstrably not the case with Flippy, which is about to be hired to work in 50 branches of CaliBurger in the US, after a successful internship at a Pasadena restaurant.
Once again, this raises the specter of what will happen to jobs. There are just over 500,000 fast-food cooks in America alone, according to 2015 Bureau of Labor statistics, so what happens to them if Flippy proves an efficient substitute? You can probably read between the lines there, and Zito’s weak reassurances on that front shouldn’t inspire too much confidence. “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.”
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Perhaps it’s time to get working on robots called Choppy, Servey and Scrubby to complete the nonhuman restaurant taskforce – if you can’t beat them OR join them, then you’ll just have to invent them.