There has been much written about the advent of artificial intelligence and robotics of late; and the forecast for humankind in the workplace is grim. However, a much-hyped robotic rollout turned troublesome turkey could mean that workers in food service shouldn’t hang up their spatula’s just yet.

I regret to report that “Flippy,” the robotic burger maker, got (temporarily) canned after just 1 day on the job.

Flippy, a “specialized industrial six-axis robotic arm bolted to the kitchen floor,” was introduced with much fanfare at a Pasadena, CA location of the international burger chain Caliburger just this past week. Designed to cook up to 150 burgers per hour, he was heralded as the dawn of a new era in robotic kitchens. Instead, mobs of people showed up to watch him work, and he proved incapable of meeting the demand.

I hate to say it, but Flippy was apparently just too damn slow. His taskmasters, however, say that the humans who work around Flippy just need to learn how he operates; what makes him tick. The Chief Technology Officer for Cali Group was quoted as saying, “Mostly it’s the timing. When you’re in the back, working with people, you talk to each other. With Flippy, you kind of need to work around his schedule. Choreographing the movements of what you do, when and how you do it.”

So in other words, he is like any temperamental human restaurant cook.

You can watch a Flippy promo video here:

According to the source article, Flippy’s developers say it “is designed to operate in an existing commercial kitchen layout alongside other workers.” Flippy still needs “a human guide” to place patties on the grill. He also has to display a burgers’ cooking time on a screen so another human worker will know when to put cheese on the patty, as well as to start adding other items such as lettuce and tomatoes.

Essentially, Flippy sounds like a $60,000 prima donna robot who needs an extensive support crew. He can do absolutely everything you need done for preparing a burger, so long as everything is just flipping a patty halfway through its cooking cycle.

I cannot help but think that the early phases of AI and robotics is more hype than hope. Take for instance, another highly promoted “robotic” restaurant, featured in the video below.

As you could see, in this “robotic pizza kitchen of the future,” a human makes the dough, tosses the dough, and places the dough on a conveyor. A “robot” named Pepe poops out some sauce on the dough, and then a second “robot,” named Marta, mushes it around on the pie. Then a human “adjusts any imperfections” left from Pepe le’ Pooper or Marta the Musher and adds all the remaining ingredients. I will note that oddly, at one point, a human named Noel, one of their “amazing pizzaiolos,” appears to have four hands. Now, that is really something special.

The coup de grâce of this little operation, however, is the bazillion dollar “six axis” robot that takes the pizza from a conveyor belt and places it on the oven conveyor.

I hate to tell these guys, but that seems like a completely useless step. If they turned that oven 90 degrees they could have just had the pizza roll directly onto the oven conveyor and saved about a bazillion dollars; but then again, that would leave them with just a sauce pooper and pie musher as their only claim to robotic fame.

So, while it looks as though artificial intelligence and robotics may eventually cost humans their ability to support themselves, in the short term it looks as though the technologies will help spawn thousands of new positions. Massive amounts of support may be needed as this industry works through its infancy.

Flippy will, of course, be back very soon. He will serve as a robotic “helping hand.” There is nothing wrong with that, so long as that hand does not have to be continually held.

 

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