According to a McKinsey & Company analysis, 73% of the activities food service workers perform have the potential for automation. This might seem like cause for alarm, but Miso Robotics, a startup developing automation products for fast-food and quick-service restaurant kitchens, asserts machines can boost productivity by working with humans as opposed to wholly replacing them.
To this end, Miso this morning unveiled the Miso Robot on a Rail (ROAR), which it describes as the “next generation” of “cost-efficient” robotic assistant solutions for restaurant chains. It’s basically the evolution of Miso’s previous robot, Flippy, albeit affixed to a movable rail as opposed to a ground-mounted base.
ROAR — which is expected to begin shipping commercially by the end of 2020 for around $30,000, or half the cost of Flippy — can be installed on a floor or under a standard kitchen hood, allowing it work two stations and interact with a cold storage hopper. On the software side, it benefits from improvements to Miso AI (Miso’s eponymous cloud-based platform) that expand the number of cookable food categories to over a dozen, including chicken tenders, chicken wings, tater tots, french fries and waffle fries, cheese sticks, potato wedges, corn dogs, popcorn shrimp and chicken, and onion rings.
ROAR can prep hundreds of orders an hour thanks to a combination of cameras and safety scanners, obtaining frozen food and cooking it without assistance from a human team member. It alerts nearby workers when orders are ready to be served, and it takes on tasks like scraping grills, draining excess fry oil, and skimming oil between frying as it recognizes and monitors items like baskets and burger patties in real time. Plus, it integrates with point-of-sales systems (via Miso AI) to route orders automatically and optimize which tasks to perform.
“It was incredible to see the efficiency with which the team adapted Flippy to a rail,” said Miso Robotics CTO Dr. Ryan Sinnet, who added that his team is working to cut the price of ROAR in half by lowering the cost of the hardware. “In my mind, that validated the software platform approach we took in designing Flippy’s brain.”
ROAR 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 relatively new burger chain, preps meals with the help of 350 sensors and 20 microcomputers. And Boston restaurant Spyce has a semiautonomous kitchen to craft 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.
But Miso says it saw “tremendous success” last year, serving up more than 15,000 burgers and more than 31,000 pounds of chicken tenders and tots. Flippy will soon flip burgers at more than 50 CaliBurger locations globally, and it’s so far been deployed at Dodger Stadium in Los Angeles, Chase Field in Phoenix, and CaliBurger locations in Pasadena.
To date, Pasadena, California-based Miso Robotics — whose team hails from Caltech, Cornell, MIT, Carnegie Mellon, Art Center, and the University of South Carolina at Chapel Hill — has raised around $15 million in earlier funding rounds from investors that include parent company CaliGroup, MAG Ventures, Acacia Research Corporation, Levy, and OpenTable CTO Joseph Essas. More recently, it nabbed an investment of $11 million from CaliGroup, and it launched an equity crowdfunding round targeting $30 million in collaboration with Circle’s SeedInvest and Wavemaker Labs.