Flippy the burger flipping AI robot: gimmick or game-over for humans?

Dexterous workplace limbs may make fast-food chefs a thing of the past. But is your job next?

Henry Tobias Jones
· 4 min read
Robotic chef arms may already be serving food, but which industry will be next? | Photograph Miso Robotics

A year since the American fast-food franchise CaliBurger announced it would be partnering Miso Robotics to employ a new resident chef, Flippy, the hamburger flipping robot, has served his first patty.

In Pasadena, California, the AI-enabled cook has started to work alongside the kitchen’s human staff.

His job is the all important turning and serving of the burgers once they are cooked to order, a vital part of the fast-food production process. Moreover, Flippy doesn’t just time his cooking, but rather he can actually monitor the heat of the patties in real time to ensure they are cooked through — from blue to well-done.

Miso Robotics developed their cloud-connected AI learning platform to power industrial robotic arms with the aim of complementing, rather than replacing human industrial workers.

The groundbreaking technology combines 3D, thermal and regular vision to ensure that Flippy can respond to items on the surface of the grill in real-time, rather than just flipping zones, irrespective of what might be in them.

He can even clean spatulas at the end of his arm while cooking, by scraping and wiping the grill.

Despite costing over $60,000USD, CaliBurger has plans to roll out the robot to 50 of their international locations. The fast-food franchise argue they will recoup costs thanks to the arms efficiency, speed, and decreased food waste.

Miso’s CEO, David D. Zito says “Flippy is novel, but definitely not a novelty.”

Zito continues, “as it improves its speed and skill set over time such as frying, chopping and grilling menu items and adding seasoning or cheese to patties, CaliBurger will see an increase in productivity. In addition, we’ve modeled our pricing based off expected value each robotic kitchen assistant can provide at scale.”

While the cost of hiring a burger flipping human is considerably lower than the entry price for Miso’s robot, there are lots of high skilled jobs currently performed inaccurately or inefficiently by humans which could soon be replaced by robots.

But which jobs could already be a little too well-done?

Farmers

The erroneous belief that agriculture is nothing more than a rural pastime for landed elite is by now years out of date. Farmers in the great American bread bowl are already using some incredible technology to analyse, grow, and even pick their produce. However, with the recent addition of drones which can monitor hundreds of acres of land from above and not to mention fully automated combine harvesters it isn’t hard to imagine a future where agriculture becomes agri-technological.

Bartenders

The worry of a cocktail shaking machine that has well and truly made a mess of its concoction is something blender enthusiasts will well understand. But the days of cleaning cosmopolitans off the ceiling have already passed. Onboard Royal Caribbean’s Quantum of the Seas cruise in the Bionic Bar, Makr Shakr robotic arms mix cocktails all night. They have already served 141,790 drinks already.

Journalists

A recent feature for Stylist magazine in the UK was entirely authored by a “robotic content creator”. The AI programme, Articolo, used an algorithm to study a sample of the editorial in the magazine and reproduced three features including an outraged piece complaining that: “It is amazing to see how millions of people still do not support the idea that there should be equal rights and equal opportunities for men and women.”

Surprisingly, the artificial journalist had very little to say about robot’s rights. Although perhaps Articolo is saving that piece for the follow up.

Bells&Whistles

Making a fuss about the best stories in tech, design & the future

Henry Tobias Jones

Written by

Features director of ES Magazine, Evening Standard Founding editor of @dyson on: Follow me @henrytojones

Bells&Whistles

Making a fuss about the best stories in tech, design & the future

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