Flippy the burger-flipping robot has been suspended just one day into its job at CaliBurger
After debuting to much fanfare – and securing its makers a staggering $10 million in Series B funding – Flippy the burger-flipping robot has been sidelined just one day into its new job.
The $60,000 robot had been “hired” by CaliBurger in the States but its human colleagues couldn’t keep up so they pulled the plug, with Cali Group’s CTO Anthony Lomelino explaining the company needs more time to train people to keep pace.
“Mostly it’s the timing,” Lomelino said. “When you’re in the back, working with people, you talk to each other. With Flippy, you kind of need to work around his schedule. Choreographing the movements of what you do, when and how you do it.”
As its name suggests, Flippy flips burgers, and uses thermal sensors, 3D sensors and cameras to differentiate between foodstuffs, and even between spatulas for raw and cooked food. It can plate up the burgers too, if needed. However, Flippy doesn’t know how much ketchup a customer would like, and can’t add cheese for example, so that work is still carried out by humans.
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 allows Flippy to learn how to recognise 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.”
Flippy was recently hired to work in 50 branches of CaliBurger in the US, after a successful internship at a Pasadena restaurant.
At the time, this raised the spectre 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.”
If those platitudes ring a little hollow to you, it might be worth giving thought to the words of Professor Richard Susskind who I interviewed last year: “There are two strategies: you can either say ‘I’m going to compete with the machines,’ or you can say you’re going to build the machines. Those are really the only two options.”
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.