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Miso Robotics made headlines nearly three years ago when it debuted a burger-flipping robot, Flippy, at a fast-food restaurant in Southern California. Flippy was billed as the world’s first autonomous robotic kitchen assistant — one that would work alongside, not replace, restaurant workers.
Flippy became an instant celebrity, often drawing large crowds at CaliBurger in Pasadena, California, the fast-food chain piloting the robot.
“We did have people come into the shop every single day to come see the robot. There was a little bit of a cult following,” Buck Jordan, president and co-founder of Miso Robotics, told Insider.
A few months later Flippy, whose kitchen skills were expanding, landed a new gig as a fry cook at Dodger Stadium in Los Angeles.
At the time, fast-food operators told the startup that Flippy might help them solve multiple challenges: rising minimum wage, delivery boom, high operational costs, and labor shortages.
Yet, it was hard to get any serious takers for Flippy.
But as the pandemic turned into a months-long crisis, Jordan said interest in Flippy skyrocketed.
“Automation interest exploded with the pandemic,” Jordan said.
One key problem Flippy can resolve in a health crisis is keeping employees socially distanced inside cramped kitchens.
“These tiny commercial kitchens are designed for elbow to elbow cooking,” Jordan said. “Robots are the only solution that can address that.”
Robots in the workforce have been a controversial subject. Unions say these autonomous kitchen assistants take jobs away from blue-collar workers. But the reality is, the fast-food industry has struggled for years to fill jobs.
By 2026, the Labor Department estimates that the industry will have 262,000 openings for restaurant cooks, alone.
The industry also faces the possibility of a federal minimum wage hike to $15 an hour as part of a proposed $1.9 trillion COVID-19 relief package that congressional Democrats are hoping to pass.
Miso Robotics tells investors that Flippy can tackle kitchen work that “many workers don’t want to do.”
Jordan said the AI-powered robot allows operators to redeploy staff for other roles created during the pandemic such as expediting curbside pickup and delivery orders.
Understanding the changing needs of the fast-food industry is something White Castle prides itself on.
The burger chain institution had been in talks with Miso Robotics prior to the pandemic but no agreement was made until late 2020 when Flippy began working full time at a restaurant in the midwest.
White Castle said Flippy is not being used to replace jobs. The robot, instead, tackles repetitive and demanding frying duties.
Flippy, who doesn’t call in sick or take breaks, is frying about 10 items including french fries, cheese sticks, chicken wings, onion rings, and breaded fish and chicken used on White Castle sandwiches. The robot frees up workers to tend to more hospitality-oriented tasks like helping fulfill off-premise orders, a segment that is likely to remain in growth mode in a post-vaccinated world.
“We’ve always wanted innovation and something that should be about empowering people not replacing people,” White Castle vice president Jamie Richardson told Nation’s Restaurant …read more
Source:: Businessinsider – Tech
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