Robot chefs find work in fast food chains hit by labour shortages

Miso Robotics’ Flippy 2 robot can cook multiple meals at once and is already employed by several fast food chains (Miso Robotics/ screenshot)
Miso Robotics’ Flippy 2 robot can cook multiple meals at once and is already employed by several fast food chains (Miso Robotics/ screenshot)

Several fast food chains in the US have hired a robot chef capable of cooking multiple meals simultaneously, according to its creators.

The Flippy 2 robot, developed by California-based startup Miso Robotics, automates the process of deep frying chicken, french fries, onion rings and other foods.

A big robotic arm like those in auto plants – directed by cameras and artificial intelligence – takes frozen foods out of a freezer, dips them into hot oil, then deposits the ready-to-serve product into a tray.

Flippy 2 reduces the need for catering staff and helps address labour shortages in the food service and hospitality industries, according to Miso Robotics.

Chief executive Mike Bell also claimed that the machine can speed up order delivery at drive-through windows.

”When an order comes in through the restaurant system, it automatically spits out the instructions to Flippy,” said Mr Bell. “ It does it faster or more accurately, more reliably and happier than most humans do it.”

Miso Robotics said it took five years to develop Flippy and recently made it commercially available. A number of restaurant chains have adopted the robotic fry cook, including Jack in the Box in San Diego, White Castle in the Midwest and CaliBurger on the West Coast, Mr Bell added.

Three other big US fast food chains have reportedly put Flippy 2 to work, but Miso Robotics claims they are hesitant to advertise because of sensitivities about perceptions that robots are taking jobs away from humans.

”The task that the humans are most happy to offload are tasks like the fry station. ... They’re delighted to have the help so they can do other things,” Mr Bell said.

The robot’s name comes from Flippy, an earlier robot designed to flip burgers. But once Miso Robotics’ team finished that machine, they realized there was a much tighter bottleneck at the fry station, particularly late at night.

Miso engineers can watch Flippy 2 robots working in real time on a big screen, enabling them to help troubleshoot any problems that crop up.

Miso Robotics has around 90 engineers, who tinker with prototypes or work on computer code. One of its next projects is Sippy, a drink-making robot which will take an order from a customer, pour drinks, put lids on them, insert a straw and group them together.

Mr Bell said that some day, people will “walk into a restaurant and look at a robot and say, ‘Hey, remember the old days when humans used to do that kind of thing?’

”When we put a robot into a location, the customers that come up and order, they all take pictures, they take videos, they ask a bunch of questions. And then the second time they come in, they seem not to even notice it, just take it for granted.”

Additional reporting by agencies