White Castle To Introduce Kitchen Robotic Assistant Flippy
ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:
In 1964, the science fiction writer Isaac Asimov speculated that within 50 years, we would all have robotic kitchens. They'd automatically brew our coffee, toast our bread and fry our bacon and eggs.
MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:
Well, he wasn't too far off. This month, the White Castle fast-food chain known for its slider-sized burgers said it is hiring a new line cook, Flippy.
BUCK JORDAN: Flippy is an industrial robotic arm on an upside down robotic rail which allows it to slide in between workstations.
SHAPIRO: As Miso Robotics CEO Buck Jordan points out, Flippy is a burger-flipping robot. It costs about $30,000 out of the box.
KELLY: Or measured a little differently, 35,000 White Castle burgers. And the biggest perk, Jordan says, is better burgers.
JORDAN: Everything is cooked perfectly every single time. There's a huge reduction of food waste and greater customer satisfaction due to higher quality, higher consistency and faster speed of service.
KELLY: Flippy learns from its mistakes, too, using artificial intelligence.
SHAPIRO: Economist Tyler Cowen at George Mason University says it's probably a sign of things to come and not necessarily bad news for fast-food cooks.
TYLER COWEN: In the longer term, I think there will be fewer burger flippers and more robots doing that job, but those people will be re-employed, say, looking after the elderly who might prefer a human touch to a robot. So, again, the total number of jobs probably isn't going down.
KELLY: Cowen does worry, though, about a robot's ability to satisfy the American consumer.
COWEN: You hear people give their special orders or they want pickles on the side or they want it in a different kind of bag. The complexities of human nature are hard to predict, and a human can still handle most of those kinds of requests better than a machine can.
KELLY: Amid a global pandemic, Jordan says the lack of a human touch is precisely one of the advantages of his robots.
JORDAN: There's a whole new set of challenges that cannot be solved in any other way than automation. You have to social distance in kitchens. These kitchens were never designed for that.
SHAPIRO: As Cowen points out, robots have taken over much more slowly than Asimov and others predicted. My home robot still can't figure out how I take my coffee in the mornings. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.