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Food prep robot startup Miso Robotics today announced that fast-food chain White Castle has signed on as a customer. In a pilot later this fall, White Castle plans to bring Miso’s robots into kitchens and benchmark them for speed in production, taste, quality, and backend point-of-sales integration ahead of tests, with a rollout to locations across the U.S.
Miso says that Flippy has already been testing out the White Castle menu at the company’s Pasadena, California R&D kitchen.
As declines in business resulting from the COVID-19 pandemic place strains on the hospitality segment, Miso believes that robots working alongside human workers can cut costs while improving efficiency — and overall safety. The company asserts White Castle’s decision to test Flippy creates an avenue for reducing human contact with food during the cooking process and ensuring consistency, while at the same time freeing up human cooks to focus their attention on less time-consuming and repetitive tasks.
“There are a number of benefits to employing Flippy, and a major one is to redeploy valuable team members where they are needed more today to create the best possible customer experience,” a Miso spokesperson told VentureBeat via email. “There’s now greater demand for delivery, takeout, enhanced cleaning schedules. That’s all front of the house work that a few years ago didn’t need to be accounted for in staffing to keep customers satisfied. Flippy can keep the production up and meet the quality standards customers expect, so staff stays focused on shifting new demands.”
Miso has long claimed that its flagship robot Flippy — and Flippy’s successor, Miso Robot on a Rail (ROAR), which White Castle has agreed to test — can boost productivity by working with humans as opposed to replacing them. ROAR, which is expected to begin shipping commercially by the end of 2020 for around $30,000, or half the cost of a single Flippy unit, can be installed on a floor or under a standard kitchen hood, allowing it to work two stations and interact with a cold storage hopper. On the software side, it benefits from improvements to Miso AI (Miso’s cloud-based platform) that expand the number of cookable food categories to over a dozen, including chicken tenders, chicken wings, tater tots, french fries and waffle fries, cheese sticks, potato wedges, corn dogs, popcorn shrimp and chicken, and onion rings.
ROAR can prep hundreds of orders an hour thanks to a combination of cameras and safety scanners, obtaining frozen food and cooking it without assistance from a human team member. It alerts nearby workers when orders are ready to be served, and it takes on tasks like scraping grills, draining excess fry oil, and skimming oil between frying as it recognizes and monitors items like baskets and burger patties in real time. Plus, it integrates with point-of-sale systems (via Miso AI) to route orders automatically and optimize which tasks to perform.
Miso says it saw “tremendous success” last year, serving up more than 15,000 burgers and more than 31,000 pounds of chicken tenders and tots. Flippy will soon flip burgers at more than 50 CaliBurger locations globally, and so far it’s been deployed at Dodger Stadium in Los Angeles, Chase Field in Phoenix, and CaliBurger locations in Pasadena.
More recently, Miso said it would deploy new tools to its platform in CaliBurger restaurants as part of a pilot with CaliGroup intended to improve safety and health standards. In the coming weeks, in partnership with payment provider PopID, the company will install a thermal-based screening device in a CaliBurger location in Pasadena that attaches to doors to measure the body temperatures of people attempting to enter the restaurant. Miso also says it will also install physical PopID terminals so that guests can transact without touching a panel, using cash, or swiping a credit card — all of which can transfer pathogens.
Despite Miso’s claims to the contrary, think tanks like the Brookings Institution anticipate automation will cause the loss of countless jobs. Roughly 36 million Americans hold jobs with “high exposure” to automation, meaning at least 70% of their tasks could soon be performed by machines using current technology, according to a report. Among those most likely to be affected are cooks, waiters, and others in food services.
But some restaurant industry executives claim high turnover rates underscore the need for automation. The official U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics turnover rate for the restaurant sector was 81.9% for the 2015 to 2017 period, with the average cost to replace a worker estimated at $2,100 to $2,800.
“We started talking to White Castle about a year ago. They came to us with the same challenges much of the industry was experiencing — labor, operational costs to stay competitive mounting, and the need to meet on-demand delivery culture with high quality. In truth, the pandemic just accelerated conversations,” the spokesperson said.