Despite the hype surrounding ‘Flippy’, the burger-flipping robot developed by Miso Robotics, the machine has been sidelined after just one day of work at CaliBurger, a Pasadena, California, based burger chain.

Workers at CaliBurger’s Pasadena restaurant were unable to keep up with the pace of Flippy, which can reportedly flip and cook over 300 burgers an hour. The news is certainly not a good indicator of the smooth integration of robotics and artificial intelligence (AI) into the kitchen.

Introducing Flippy: the automated burger flipper

CaliBurger had previously claimed that it plans to install Flippy in 50 locations across the US, but Cali Group’s CTO Anthony Lomelino has explained that currently, human colleagues couldn’t keep up with the machine, stating “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.”

At its most basic, Flippy can be described as a six-axis robotic arm with the capability of flipping burgers using its spatula-tipped limb, with other tools including tongs and scrapers at its disposal. But beyond merely turning burger patties over on a timer, Flippy comes equipped with 3D and thermal cameras to monitor the cooking process, as well as an AI platform so it can learn the difference between cooked and uncooked meats. The machine even knows when to switch out for clean utensils for cooked and raw meats.

Creators Miso Robotics recently received $10 million dollars in funding for the Flippy project, taking their total disclosed funding to $14 million. This cash injection is being funnelled into the further development of Flippy, as well as its onboard AI platform, which the developers hope to utilise for other food preparation applications.

Inefficient human beings

While Flippy can place a burger in a bun, it doesn’t know how each and every person likes their meal, so human workers still add the ingredients such as lettuce, cheese and ketchup, and service staff would of course be needed to attend to customers.

“Our mission is to improve working conditions of chefs and line cooks with assistants, not replace them,” said Miso Robotics CEO David Zito in a business wire, “Anyone who’s ever worked in a restaurant knows how hard the work is and the value of extra hands and that’s exactly what we built.”

The concern from restaurant and kitchen staff is justified, though, as on the face of it the implementation of a burger flipping robot certainly takes at least one role away from staff.

The news from CaliBurger isn’t promising for the future integration of AI and automation in the food industry, but the real issue is that the weak link in the process was the human aspect. The machine reportedly performed too well, with people unable to keep up. For those looking to make the kitchen and processing environment more efficient, the answer here could well be to further invest in machine alternatives, cutting out the human ‘problem’ altogether.

Chefs can at least look to reassurance from food technology expert and Oxford University professor Charles Spence, who, speaking at London Food Tech Week last year, took the opposite stance on the ‘robot chef’ phenomenon, calling them a fad and certainly not the future of food, claiming that the perfect meal has less to do with the ‘nuts and bolts’ of the cuisine, but rather the sounds and smells. A robot chef lacks one vital component, he says; working taste buds.

It is inevitable that AI will play an increasingly integral role in food production, but until machines and humans can learn to work together, integration problems will keep cropping up. After all, it seems doubtful that a machine being too good at its job is likely to dissuade anyone from utilising them.