Burger-flipping robot starts job at fast food restaurant

Image: How Flippy's AI system "maps" the grill for flipping burgers.
How Flippy's AI system "maps" the grill for flipping burgers. Copyright Miso Robotics
By Denise Chow with NBC News Tech and Science News
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Flippy could be the start of 'co-botic' workforces in the fast food industry.

Next time you swing by a fast food joint for a burger, don't be surprised if you see a one-armed robot at work in the kitchen. That's probably just Flippy the burger-flipping robot doing its job.

Flippy is an autonomous assistant designed to work alongside humans in restaurant kitchens. Created by Miso Robots of Pasadena, California, Flippy recently completed its first shift at a fast food restaurant there — and one day could be put to work in kitchens across the country.

In Pasadena, Flippy is working the lunchtime shift at a CaliBurger restaurant, part of a restaurant chain that also has outlets in Canada, Mexico, and China. But human burger-flippers needn't flip out about losing their jobs to Flippy; humans are still needed to place the raw patties on the grill and perform other burger-cooking tasks.

How Flippy\'s AI system "maps" the grill for flipping burgers.
How Flippy\'s AI system "maps" the grill for flipping burgers.Miso Robotics

Flippy has thermal "eyes" that monitor the cooking process and a spatula-tipped arm that deftly flips the patties as needed and removes them from the grill when they are done. The bot's onboard AI system maps the grill and displays the cooking time for each item on a screen, alerting human cooks when it's time to place cheese on the patties, for instance, or when a burger is ready to be topped with tomatoes, lettuce, or condiments.

Flippy even knows to switch spatulas (one for raw and one for cooked meat) to prevent foodborne illness — and when to snap on its scraper to clean the grill.

Flippy, which in basic form costs about $60,000, isn't much to look at. But it is fast. Miso Robotics says it can help make up to 300 burgers an hour. But Flippy isn't just about being fast.

"The biggest challenge today is that restaurants aren't equipped to provide on-demand service, which is now desired and expected," Miso Robotics CEO David Zito told NBC News MACH in an email. "To help overcome this challenge, we developed Flippy to work alongside kitchen staff — serving as an extra hand — to assist with strenuous, time-consuming tasks. As Flippy improves its skillset, it will get faster and will take on more responsibility, including grilling chicken, chopping vegetables, and placing cheese on patties while they cook," he said.

Having Flippy on hand could lend stability to restaurants troubled by high employee turnover, John Miller, chairman of the company that runs the CaliBurger chain, said in a written statement. If Flippy performs as expected, Miller said the bot will wind up in other CaliBurger locations.


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