Humans aren’t the only ones flipping burgers anymore — and that goes for the short-order cooks at sports stadiums, too. Miso Robotics today announced that Flippy, a restaurant robot designed to prep food alongside human workers, will work the frying stations behind a food stand in Dodgers Stadium, the Los Angeles home of the Dodgers Major League Baseball team.
Flippy, which was piloted at a CaliBurger location in Pasadena, California earlier this year — where it serves up to 300 burgers an hour — will prepare fried chicken and tater tots with the help of Miso AI, Miso Robotics’ eponymous artificial intelligence platform. Leveraging a combination of lasers, cameras, and thermal scanners, it’ll monitor the cooking process across the fryer, alerting nearby human coworkers when an order is ready to be served.
“Adapting Flippy into a fryer assistant … has been a great opportunity to demonstrate the scale of Miso’s platform,” Miso Robotics CEO David Zito said. “[T]his technology [is] a win-win — improving working conditions for stadium employees and improving the game experience for fans.”
Discussions with Dodgers Stadium began in February, when Miso Robotics entered into a strategic partnership with Chicago-based entertainment and hospitality group Levy, with the goal of launching Flippy in new venues. The automation startup partnered with E15, a Levy subsidiary focused on advanced analytics services for sports, hospitality, and retail groups, to set the robot up for concession stand success.
“We’re just beginning to demonstrate the power of bringing software and AI and deep learning to commercial kitchens,” Zito said, in a phone interview with VentureBeat.
Fippy’s sports stadium debut might seem like yet another nail in the coffin for restaurant workers, with executives like Yum Brands CEO Greg Creed expecting robots will replace fast food staff “by the mid s.” But Zito was quick to note that Flippy isn’t taking humans out of the loop anytime soon. Rather, he said, it’s freeing them up to interact more with fans, take orders, and expedite dishes in progress.
“We see [Flippy] as a collaborative learning platform,” Zito explained. “It’s like a third hand in the kitchen — that’s been our vision from the start.”
Furthermore, it’s helping address chronic unemployment and high turnover in commercial kitchens. In 2017, 37 percent of the National Restaurant Association‘s members said recruitment was their top challenge, and the Bureau of Labor Statics recently reported that demand for cooks would grow by 12 percent in the next eight years. At the same time, average turnover at fast-food restaurants has reached 150 percent, the highest rate since 1995.
Flippy isn’t cheap — the entry-level model’s price tag is $60,000, and there’s a 20 percent recurring annual maintenance fee — but Zito said feasibility studies have shown it can improve consistency and overall kitchen productivity while cutting down on food waste.
“Food service workers are feeling pinched on the labor side. It’s frustrating to have to retrain someone every two months,” Zito said.
Miso Robotics raised $10 million earlier this year in a funding round led by Acacia Research Corporation, Levy, OpenTable CTO Joseph Essas, and CaliBurger parent company Cali Group. It plans to bring Flippy to 50 of CaliBurger’s international locations later this year.
Flippy isn’t the only autonomous chef in town, of course.
San Francisco pizza chain Zume Pizza employs a fleet of robots — including one that takes just nine seconds to press dough into a perfect circle — to prepare fresh pies for customers. Creator (formerly Momentum Machines), a new burger chain, preps meals with the help of 350 sensors and 20 microcomputers. And Boston restaurant Spyce‘s semiautonomous kitchen crafts vegetarian, vegan, and pescatarian meals in three minutes or less.
Even retail giant Alibaba is getting in on the automated restaurant trend. Earlier this year, it opened a robot-staffed restaurant in Hema supermarkets in Shanghai that uses apps, QR codes, and an AI-powered platform to reduce wait times.