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Thread: Restaurants are now employing robots – should chefs be worried?

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    Restaurants are now employing robots – should chefs be worried?

    Restaurants are now employing robots – should chefs be worried?
    From burger-flipping robots to android waiters, automated systems that can cook and serve are no longer the preserve of sci-fi

    Tony Naylor

    Thu 7 Mar 2019 09.25 EST Last modified on Thu 7 Mar 2019 10.09 EST

    Like most chefs, Flippy is not afraid of hard graft. Since last summer that has meant 11am until 7pm shifts at Caliburger in Pasadena, California, as well as stints at Chick-N-Tots at Dodger Stadium in Los Angeles. These are long hours of repetitive work, where the boss demands absolute consistency. But you won’t hear Flippy complain.

    Or say anything, in fact. For Flippy is a robot – a cloud-connected mechanical arm with 3D thermal scanners for eyes – that can flip burgers or fry 80 baskets of food an hour, monitor that food and even clean up afterwards.

    Flippy was created by Miso Robotics, part of the Cali Group, which is described by its CEO, John Miller, as: “A technology company that happens to sell cheeseburgers.” Cali creates new machines that it road tests in its Caliburger restaurants across the world, into which Flippy will be deployed this year. And Flippy is not alone. Also in California, Bear Robotics has developed a self-guiding robot, Penny, which has so far served 40,000 diners.

    Ten years ago, robot-chefs and waiters were pure sci-fi. Today, they are a reality, and at prices that make them a plausible investment. From May, Penny will be shipped on a subscription basis that offers “an immediate return”, says Bear Robotics’ chief operating officer, Juan Higueros. Flippy will cost a reported $60,000 (£45,700) to $100,000 (Miso declined to confirm an exact figure). Fully automated burger restaurants managed with minimal human oversight – where customers order at screens, pay electronically and eat food cooked and delivered by robots – are now a possibility.

    The technology exists, it just needs knitting together cost-effectively and in a way diners buy into. In an industry keen to slash labour costs and increase profits, further automation seems inevitable. After an eight-month test at Kang Nam Tofu House in California, Bear Robotics credited Penny with driving a 28% increase in sales. Meanwhile, in US trials, the self-ordering screens that McDonald’s is currently installing at its 1,300 UK restaurants yielded a reported 30% rise in order values.

    Personalisation is seen as key to the appeal of this technology (McDonald’s new screens allow you to customise your burger by, for instance, removing the gherkins), alongside its ability to reliably push so-called “upsells” (meal deals, extras, larger drinks) to customers. Soon when you log in to a restaurant app, it will be able to use your data and purchasing history to recommend dishes to you – factoring in everything from the weather to, if you are ordering at a screen that can read your face, your mood (as trialled by KFC in China).

    “Right now people compromise on choice. We’re presented with a one-size-fits-all menu. Ultimately, technology can allow us curated choice. You love spicy food and chicken? Here’s the dish people like you mostly order,” says Tom Weaver, CEO at the hospitality tech company Flyt. He talks enthusiastically about the Helsinki pop-up Take-In, a full-service restaurant where diners ordered dishes in from various delivery services. “For the first time in a few hundred years, digital is allowing us to create new versions of restaurants.”

    If high-street fast food is automation-ready, its impact on high-end restaurants is likely to be subtler and slower. “It’ll probably be a very long time before we see a Michelin star robot-chef,” says Robot Wars’ judge Noel Sharkey, emeritus professor of AI and robotics at the University of Sheffield. “Apart from the AI creativity gap, great cooking involves a subtle understanding of ingredients and delicate cooking that would be enormously challenging for robots. Placing fragile foods on plates would be incredibly slow.”

    Currently, robots have limited functionality. A human needs to load Penny with plates that diners lift off themselves (it is more a runner than full-blown waiter). At the robot-powered US pizza-delivery company Zume, the fiddlier jobs, such as topping pizzas, are still done by humans. But Moley, which will launch later in 2019, offers an idea of the sophistication to come. Modelled on the movements of the 2011 Masterchef winner, Tim Anderson, its robotic arms are fixed over a stove and programmed to prepare dishes from raw ingredients. It is designed for domestic use, but a commercial version is planned that, like Suzumo’s sushi robots or the Foodini 3D food-printer, opens up the possibility of restaurant kitchens automating even highly technically challenging tasks.
    I think this technology will improve and spread a lot faster than people think. There are so many advantages for both sides of the counter.

    The vast majority of restaurant food is already very formulaic and relies on known portions and timed preparation. Nothing wrong with that - it wouldn't work any other way either practically or economically. Machines are even more precise. Machines don't come in drunk, they don't feed their friends, and they don't fail to call in when they miss their shift.

    On the order side, machines don't disappear for 40 minutes after you sit down, screw up your order, or hover around. The order/pay screen doesn't care if you eat in 15 minutes or 50 minutes.

    The downside is that like people, machines need to work to be useful. There are a lot of technical challenges to be solved but I have no doubt that they will be solved. The upside is just too good to be ignored.

    There will always be a place for human-made dishes and human service just as there is now a place for what amounts to "temporary" servants when you go on vacation. Once in a while is affordable. Staffing your house with chefs, maids, and repair people usually isn't.

    It will be interesting.

    Guardian
    "Alexa, slaughter the fatted calf."

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    To date no restrobot has put ground glass on a policeman's hamburger.

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    I want an autochef like Eve Dallas has. The one with real cow and real, high-quality coffee.
    No state shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States; nor shall any state deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws. This offer VALID in 35 34 33 32 31 26 20 17 15 14 13 ALL 50 states.

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    I don't need or want the home version but I'd be fine with the restaurant version. The restaurant one won't jump the counter and beat people up or have any "bathroom" training failures.
    "Alexa, slaughter the fatted calf."

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    Quote Originally Posted by Gingersnap View Post
    I don't need or want the home version but I'd be fine with the restaurant version. The restaurant one won't jump the counter and beat people up or have any "bathroom" training failures.
    And you won't see them coming out of the bathroom and have to wonder if they washed their hands before serving your meal.
    Get off the cross, we need the wood.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Celeste Chalfonte View Post
    I want an autochef like Eve Dallas has. The one with real cow and real, high-quality coffee.
    Did she ever figure out who steals her chocolate that she hides around the office?
    My money is on Dr. Mira just to screw with Eve's head.
    Get off the cross, we need the wood.

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    Quote Originally Posted by gary m View Post
    Did she ever figure out who steals her chocolate that she hides around the office?
    My money is on Dr. Mira just to screw with Eve's head.
    Not yet, and you're twisted. I'm sure it's Roarke, trying to get her to eat something good for her instead.

    OK, not really.
    No state shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States; nor shall any state deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws. This offer VALID in 35 34 33 32 31 26 20 17 15 14 13 ALL 50 states.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Celeste Chalfonte View Post
    Not yet, and you're twisted. I'm sure it's Roarke, trying to get her to eat something good for her instead.

    OK, not really.
    Is that one of them reading books thangs?

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    Yeah, well, the majority of people still go to the cahiers lines, not the computer self-check-out lines.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Novaheart View Post
    Is that one of them reading books thangs?
    Yes, Gary's spouse is into kinky stuff like tying him up and forcing him to listen to audiobooks.
    No state shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States; nor shall any state deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws. This offer VALID in 35 34 33 32 31 26 20 17 15 14 13 ALL 50 states.

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