Could Your Next Meal Be Prepared By Robots?
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.