We’ve been critical of the idea that fast food will be fully automated in the past, in part because the technology is far from ready and the issues it raises are more complex than just who flips burgers. Still, Flippy seems built to address at least some of those objections, provided it can meet a few thresholds.
Flippy, as you may have guessed, has one job: Flipping burgers. The robotic arm has a hollow hockey puck at the end Flippy uses to scoop the burger, flip it and put it back on the grill. Once it’s done, Flippy plates the burger and leaves a human to finish it off with toppings. The idea is to improve human safety in the workplace by letting employees do the fine work while Flippy deals with the grunt work. Flippy can also be configured to help with prep, plating, and frying.
Still, the robo-spatula has a few problems. It’s mobile, in that it’s on a cart a human can push around, and it even has a restaurant committed to using it, but the question is whether other restaurants, particularly fast food joints, will be interested. This isn’t the first time somebody has tried to interest Mickey D’s and the Burger King in a robot employee, and so far, they’ve had no interest, in part because an employee with a minor burn can just go home while the manager calls in a replacement, but a broken robot sits in the corner waiting for the repair guy. Similarly, these have to cost less than paying an employee, and it’s not clear Miso’s managed to break that barrier yet.
That said, robots tend to be popular with humans when they enhance productivity because the guy flipping burgers is probably also the plating guy, the condiments guy, the frying guy, etc. So if Flippy is a tool for the line cook, instead of a replacement, it might find a place in the kitchen after all.