After a successful pilot program to test a robotic fry cook this summer, White Castle will expand the automated cook concept by ten times. The pilot, which began this summer, and the newly announced expansion both come as COVID-19 shakes up the restaurant industry and drives new automation technologies to increase efficiencies and sanitation. The robot, which we've covered since it came out of stealth, is built by Miso Robotics. It's called Flippy, Robot-on-a-Rail (ROAR), which is an update to an earlier autonomous fry cook concept. During the pandemic, a huge market opportunity has emerged for automation in food preparation.
Did you know White Castle was the country's first fast-food hamburger chain, getting its start 1921? The quick-serve restaurant has kept pretty true to its roots, which makes it an unlikely partner for a company that makes robots. Nevertheless, Miso Robotics, which makes Flippy the burger-flipping robot, has announced a planned pilot with White Castle to test the adoption of AI and robotics in legacy fast food. It's propitious time to be selling automation in the restaurant industry. Coronavirus shutdowns and in-restaurant restrictions are seemingly making the public more receptive to automation in general.
While robotic short-order cooks have been in development for a few years, their use in actual customer-facing businesses has been largely restricted to either independent or gimmick restaurants. But that changes today as Miso Robotics, maker of Flippy, and White Castle, maker of sliders, announce an Indiana-based pilot program that could one day see burger-flipping robots slinging patties and dunking fries all across the country. "The industry is facing some real, fundamental challenges," Buck Jordan, Miso Robotics CEO and Co-founder, told Engadget. "There's labor challenges due to self-sufficiency in kitchens, there's been a massive increase of delivery and now, of course, shifting consumer preferences towards low-touch establishments. These are all challenges that can be solved through automation."
Move over human grill cooks, White Castle is teaming up with Miso Robotics to test an automated sous-chef. The aptly named Flippy--an AI-enabled kitchen assistant--is set to join the staff at a Chicago-area burger joint for a trial run that could usher in a new era of robot hash slingers. Since its unveiling in 2018, Flippy has cooked more than 40,000 pounds of fried food--including 9,000 sandwiches at LA's Dodger Stadium, the Arizona Diamondbacks' Chase Field, and two CaliBurger locations, where it works alongside humans to increase productivity and consistency. "I think automation is here to stay and this is the first example of a really large credible player starting down that journey," Miso Robotics CEO Buck Jordan told TechCrunch of the White Castle collab. Engineers are working to install the latest version of Flippy at an undisclosed location in Chicago, where the mechanical fry cook will be integrated into the restaurant's point-of-sale system, allowing it to get to work as soon as an order is placed.
White Castle has plans to usher robots into the kitchen. The burger chain announced a partnership with the artificial intelligence firm Miso Robotics on Monday. The idea is to reduce human contact with food during the cooking process and comes after many restaurants were crippled due to the pandemic, White Castle said in a statement. "The deployment will put autonomous frying to work for enhanced production speeds, improved labor allocation and an added layer of health and safety in the cooking process," the burger chain said. The restaurant didn't address how many workers could be displaced by robots.