It’s the proverbial for a first job for many young people in the America and often in other places around the world. Flipping burgers at a fast food restaurant is almost an iconic American image of entry level jobs. Many industry leaders point back to a time when they started working by flipping burgers and prepping sandwiches. However, a new and fascinating invention by Miso Robotics may spell the end for the grill cook position in fast food joints across America.
The invention, designed and built by the southern California robotics start up Miso Robotics, is called a ‘kitchen assistant’, and nicknamed Flippy. The basic concept is built around machine learning and computer vision. The ML determines the ‘doneness’ of each patty, flips it at the appropriate time, and then places it on a bun. The overall process is nearly error free and makes the entire grill cook position automated.
The company is riding on a wave of robotics replacement in the kitchen industry. The Yum CEO (owners of Pizza Hut, KFC, and others), Greg Creed, recently affirmed that the fast food industry is fast moving toward automation because of the nature of the work. The reality in the food service industry is that most employees are not thrilled with the job (aka ‘entry level’) and most employees will move on rapidly (the 73% turnover in 2016 is a good indication). Among those jobs, the grill employees have the hardest time. Flipping burgers is a hot and dirty job and takes lots of patience and training.
Miso Robotics has built their systems using existing components like robotic arms and cameras, but has designed the control software to enable the appropriate awareness of the status of individual patties, doneness, etc. CEO David Zico commented that “our software allows robots to work at a grill, doing some of the nasty and dangerous work that people don’t want to do all day. But these systems can be adapted so that robots can work, say, standing in front of a fryer or chopping onions. These are all areas of high turnover, especially for quick service restaurants.”
The reality is that machines can’t do everything yet. Robots are helpful and powerful, but they are still a tool that humans will need to manage. However, number of employees needed will decline rapidly as the robots move into the open market starting in the third quarter of 2018. Many believe in the system, indicated by the $3.1 million raised by the recent funding round.
The industry is certainly changing rapidly, and the newest innovations in robotics and machine learning will only continue to make advances. With the rise in minimum wage in states like California to over $15.00 per hour by 2022, the need for human replacements will only increase. Companies like Miso Robotics will continue to seek innovation that deals with and manages the employee needs of the thriving fast food economy. It may be that first jobs for high school students will be alongside a robot within five years.