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More automation coming to the fast food industry

The introduction of these automation systems and robotics can spell higher profits by reducing the labor force but spells doom for many workers.

A Pasadena developer and manufacturer of artificial intelligence machines for the food industry, Miso Robotics, has recently acquired another $10 million in Venture Capital funding from Acacia Research and Levy Restaurants. This a second round of funding succeeding the $4 million that the company has already received for the development of these automation technologies.

The new robots will begin their implementation for a Pasadena based fast food establishment called Caliburger during the last half of 2018 and is to expand to over 50 locations by the close of 2019.

The technology, dubbed ‘Flippy’, was originally developed by Intuitive Surgical as a surgical system. But in this case, it is being applied to the food industry. Instead of performing surgeries, the robotic arm, with its automated intelligence system, will be armed with a spatula and will be flipping burgers.

Dave Zito, CEO and co-founder spoke on a telephone call with TechCrunch that “We’re super stoked to use this funding to develop and scale our capabilities of our kitchen assistants and AI platform”

“Our current investors saw an early look at our progress, and they were so blown away that they doubled-down,” he said.

Zito told VentureBeat “Flippy can detect cheeseburgers and remove cheeseburgers. After they’re flipped, it can change spatulas while it’s working so that we’re actually adhering to food safety guidelines, and will switch to a grill scraper and be able to clean off portions of the grill after it’s done cooking burgers.”

“The proceeds for this will allow us to build a robotic kitchen assistant,” Zito said. “You’re not going to see BB-8 coming out of our shop; you’ll likely see us continue to refine this — the general hardware platform that we have, but then we will see it beginning to get more collaborative and adaptable.”

Flippy is another addition to the lineup of new automation products aimed at reducing labor costs and increasing efficiency in the fast food industry. Wendy’s and other such companies have already introduced order taking kiosks in their restaurants, and a Silicone Valley Zume Pizza has acquired $48 million in funding for robotics which make pizzas.

While the introduction of these automation systems and robotics can spell higher profits by reducing the labor force and increasing order placement and delivery efficiency, it spells doom for many of those who rely on such jobs. Flippy’s success is likely to result in the layoff of hundreds of employees at Caliburger through its initial implementation. But with that success, the technology is likely to be introduced to fast food restaurant chains across the country in their bid to lower labor expenses, which could lead to between hundreds of thousands to millions of layoffs in the coming years.

As the American ecnonomy has become more and more of a service economy over the past two and half decades, and with complete recovery from the 2008 financial crisis still at large, automation systems like these pose a threat to the domestic economy from the ground up. Many different demographics rely on such positions to fill gaps in their compensation in order to make ends meet, while others rely on them entirely when other employment possibilities are bleak.

This is especially rough news when one considers that the majority of jobs added to the US economy over the course of the past year have been in food service or drinking establishments. Between stagnating wages, gaps between what the wage can accomplish against the cost of living, the loss of those wages in economy will not only increase the amount of unemployed people, but also the loss of capital flowing throughout the system as those wages won’t be in circulation in local economies.

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