Could Your Next Meal Be Pre­pared By Ro­bots?

Distinguished Magazine - - CONTENTS - ANIRUDH MAD­HAV

Com­pa­nies like Cre­ator, Zume and Eatsa, fol­low pro-worker prin­ci­ples, where au­to­ma­tion is done in a thought­ful man­ner, with­out af­fect­ing the hu­man work­force

At Zume’s Moun­tian View fa­cil­ity, a ro­botic arm and a dough press­ing ma­chine called ‘Dough­bot’ works in uni­son with hu­mans to de­liver piz­zas through their new startup called Zume pizza. The food de­liv­ery com­pany sources the ro­bots from ro­bot maker ABB and cus­tom­izes them for the pizza assem­bly line for tasks such as spread­ing sauce, cre­at­ing the dough with the right amount of thick­ness and tak­ing out the pizza from the oven.

Zume, along with Eatsa, a fully au­to­mated Quinoa-based bowl restau­rant and Cre­ator’s burger-mak­ing ro­bots are start­ing a new wave of ro­bot au­to­ma­tion in cook­ing. These ro­bots im­prove ef­fi­ciency, cre­ate de­li­cious food and as­sist hu­mans to fo­cus on less te­dious work.

En­ter San Fran­cisco’s Eatsa out­let, a veg­e­tar­ian, cashier-free and waiter-free fully au­to­mated restau­rant. Across the wood-floored room, cus­tomers can pick up the in-store iPad or or­der a range of bowls, bites and bev­er­ages in­clud­ing South­west­ern Scram­ble, Spiced Ap­ple Quinoa and Yo­gurt Quinoa Par­fait from their menu. Din­ers can pick up their or­der from il­lu­mi­nated mi­crowave-sized ‘cub­bies’, which dark­ens dur­ing prepa­ra­tion and turns green, in­di­cat­ing that the meal can be picked up. The process is light­ning fast and the food is fresh and healthy.

While Eatsa is se­cre­tive as to what goes be­hind the walls and the ‘cub­bies’, the process of cre­at­ing a burger at Cre­ator, a restau­rant based in Down­town San Fran­cisco show­cases its burger-mak­ing process that is fu­tur­is­tic and aes­thetic. Walk­ing into the well-lit in­te­ri­ors, the restau­rant has shiny wooden ta­bles with white stools and a book­shelf filled with culi­nary books at one end. En­cased within large trans­par­ent cas­ings, two 14-foot ma­chines, com­plete with in­gre­di­ents in cylin­dri­cal tubes, 350 sen­sors and 20 mi­cro­com­put­ers, these ro­bots pre­pare the best-tast­ing burg­ers. They are cheap, priced at $6 and are avail­able in dif­fer­ent fla­vors, com­bi­na­tions and in­gre­di­ents.

Cre­ator is one the fastest-grow­ing au­to­mated ma­chines, com­bin­ing soft­ware, ro­bots and ar­ti­fi­cial in­tel­li­gence, and culi­nary ex­per­tise to pro­vide a new restau­rant ex­pe­ri­ence. Alex Var­dakostas, CEO of Cre­ator, has just started with the au­to­ma­tion of the burger. His em­ploy­ees take care of the or­der­ing process, prep fries and en­sure that mus­tard sauce is not doused on the wrong side of the bun.

How­ever, the rise of tech­nol­ogy and ar­ti­fi­cial in­tel­li­gence is not the only rea­son that has veered restau­rants in San Fran­cisco to­wards au­to­ma­tion. Firstly, the real es­tate in San Fran­sisco is high, the min­i­mum wage for lo­cal work­ers is $15 an hour and la­bor laws have man­dated own­ers to pay the full wage along with the tips in com­par­i­son to other states where there is lesser hourly wage. Though restau­rants have been forced to re­duce their cus­tomer ser­vice staff, this in turn has fu­eled the spurt of robotics and soft­ware ad­vances with­out com­pro­mis­ing or even in­creas­ing the ef­fi­ciency and qual­ity of food.

Miso Robotics’ Flippy, a burger-flip­ping ro­bot has been work­ing out of a Cal­iburger restau­rant in Pasadena, Cal­i­for­nia. Us­ing com­puter vi­sion and ar­ti­fi­cial in­tel­li­gence, Flippy has the abil­ity to com­plete the tasks of short-or­der cook. Miso is set to in­tro­duce Flippy to other Cal­iburger lo­ca­tions and is on course to re­pro­gram­ming ad­di­tional ro­bots for dif­fer­ent restau­rant tasks.

Lead­ing au­to­ma­tion com­pa­nies like Eatsa and Zume are al­ready in talks with other restau­rant chains for li­cens­ing their ro­bots to per­form a va­ri­ety of tasks. How­ever, it is not the end of the world for hu­man work­ers. Com­pa­nies like Cre­ator, Zume and Eatsa, fol­low pro-worker prin­ci­ples, where au­to­ma­tion is done in a thought­ful man­ner, with­out af­fect­ing the hu­man work­force. Zume refers to its work­force as “co-bots,” where ro­bots work with hu­mans. While the over­all vi­sion is about as­sign­ing me­nial tasks to ro­bots while hu­mans will get ful­fill­ing jobs, the fu­ture is not far away where ro­botic fast food and meal kiosks dot every block with­out the need for the hu­man touch.

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