Robots and self-driving cars have been the secret heroes of the coronavirus outbreak, and now they can could soon be cooking our food, too. In mid-July, White Castle—the oldest hamburger restaurant in the U.S.—announced that it’s partnering with Miso Robotics, a Pasadena, California-based industrial automation company, to create a robot that will serve up hamburgers. Named Flippy, this robot will begin preparing patties and dunking fries into hot vats of oil sometime this fall.
Despite this being Flippy’s first official fast food rodeo, the autonomous robot already has a built-in fanbase. The robot has worked in Dodger Stadium to provide Miso with prelimary deployment data. Some detractors have pointed out that a robot fry cook is basically a worst-case scenario for the humans currently doing that work, but White Castle maintains that the pilot with Flippy is not just about enhanced production speeds. Flippy is meant as an added layer of health and safety in the cooking process to protect workers and customers from the spread of harmful food-borne illnesses, as well as COVID-19.
“Like many sectors, the restaurant industry has been impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic and has been forced to reexamine business operations and best practices,” the company stated in a press release. “White Castle’s decision to pilot Flippy in the kitchen creates an avenue for to reduced human contact with food during the cooking process—reducing potential for transmission of food pathogens.”
According to a product page on the Miso Robotics website, Flippy can be learn from its surroundings to help acquire new skills over time, and can seamlessly switch between flipping burgers (or any other food in question) and cleaning up the cooktop. It can work continuously for 100,000 hours and is compliant with standards set by the U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration.
Flippy isn’t the only robot moving into the restaurant industry. Sony and Carnegie Mellon University have joined forces to build robots with the dexterity and precision required to handle food prep, cooking, and delivery. Boston University researchers have been built a pair of robots that can be cook and assemble hot dogs, including toppings. And in Mountain View, California, a robot named Vincenzo works for Zume Pizza, removing the piping hot food from the ovens to help reduce human injuries.