Billed as an "autonomous kitchen assistant," the robot pilot aims to help the restaurant chain fulfill different cooking tasks while reducing the need for human contact.
A White Castle location will debut a new employee in October that may be the first ever to flip hamburgers with robotic arms. The 365-unit hamburger chain has entered into a pilot with Miso Robotics its new "Robot-on-a-Rail" iteration of Flippy, an autonomous burger-flipping kitchen robot.
This latest version of Flippy comes with "zero-footprint, cost-efficient robotic kitchen assistant solutions for evolving commercial kitchens that turns Flippy upside down and mounts … on a rail to maximize kitchen plan floor space wherever it is deployed," according to Miso's CEO and co-founder, Buck Jordan.
Flippy, which debuted in California in 2018, is equipped with OSHA-compliant laser sensors for safe collaboration with humans, 3D and thermal scanners for eyes, and a cloud-connected AI brain, the company said. This latest iteration hinges the robotic arms on an upside-down rail to take up less space in the kitchen.
"White Castle started talking to us about a year ago," Jordan said. "They were experiencing challenges prevalent in the industry, such as labor turnover and mounting operational costs to stay competitive and meet the needs of the on-demand delivery culture."
The pandemic just accelerated conversations, he added. "Now, more than ever, we need automation to give the industry a boost and new opportunities in a new normal."
After the Oct. 1 deployment at a location Jordan declined to name, he said, "we'll look at a larger deployment across multiple White Castle locations" with more details to come later this year.
Flippy was originally designed with grilling capabilities but the design has evolved to include frying capabilities, he said. "While adding these enhancements, we've still managed to cut the upfront cost of Flippy for operators in half–the standard model will cost $30,000."
Miso plans to continue to drop the price over the next year to $20,000 or less "to allow operators to essentially get Flippy for free and charge a monthly fee, robot-as-a-service," Jordan said.
Additionally, Miso Robotics recently announced a partnership with PathSpot Technologies, a real-time hand hygiene management system designed to protect food service operators against the threat of illnesses and outbreaks. The PathSpot device scans employee hands to identify the presence of harmful contaminants in less than two seconds, according to Jordan.
"This partnership advances sterile and healthy cooking environments, improving safety standards in kitchens to address the needs of the restaurant industry as it looks toward recovery," he said. It also will allow Miso to offer PathSpot's hand scanning device for optional integration into Flippy's design.
Miso has also partnered with cloud platform provider PopID to enable merchants to offer consumers the option of authenticating their identity for contactless ordering and payments using facial recognition, Jordan said.
Flippy can learn from its surroundings and acquire new skills over time, with grilling and frying capabilities, Jordan said. It is specifically designed to operate in an existing commercial kitchen layout and to serve alongside kitchen staff to fulfill a variety of cooking tasks safely and efficiently, he said.
"Miso Robotics understood where we could improve and stay true to White Castle's brand of taste, innovation and best-in-class dining, said Lisa Ingram, CEO, in a statement. "A great customer and employee experience is in our DNA, and we are thrilled to bring the future into our kitchen with solutions that will transform the industry and make the White Castle experience all that it can be for generations to come."
In addition to White Castle, Jordan said the company has had "great success" at the fast-casual CaliBurger restaurant's Pasadena, CA, and Fort Myers, FL, locations, and with a deployment at the Chick N' Tots stand at Dodger Stadium.
"At CaliBurger we have served more than 15,000 burgers and at Dodger Stadium we have brought fans more than 31,000 pounds of chicken tenders and tots," he said.
Jordan said that Flippy is meant to work alongside staff and business needs, "creating opportunities to develop new skill sets and operate in a more appealing field" such as food tech chef operators, while addressing the difficulty filling jobs plaguing the industry prior to the pandemic.
Miso is helping restaurant operators build for their long-term growth. Incorporating automation into commercial food preparation empowers restaurant operators to safely reopen, attract customers, and bring staff back to work, he added. It reduces the need for human contact in the cooking process, enables social distancing, and decreases human error, Jordan said.
"New skill sets can be acquired working alongside Flippy, with new opportunities for expansion when White Castle optimizes production, serves customers better, and creates an environment where employees can thrive in fulfilling roles." he said. "It's a path to a better future all around."
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