Removing the human element

Reflecting on the potential impact of robotics on the Quick Service Restaurants market.

Tags: AutomationITP Publishing GroupUnited Arab Emirates
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Removing the human element Alexander Sophoclis Pieri, editor of Arabian computer news.
By  Alexander Sophoclis Pieri Published  March 22, 2017

On the 10 of March, 2017, a new employee by the name of Flippy began work at the CaliBurger fast-food chain in California, US.

Unlike many aspiring candidates aiming to join the fast food workforce, Flippy stands out as a robotic kitchen assistant created by Miso Robotics.  

Utilising a combination of cameras and sensors, Flippy was initially designed to cook simple hamburgers. The robot's AI software however, is capable of learning new recipes and can be trained to handle typical tasks found in a commercial kitchen.

While Flippy's role at CaliBurger is at this time limited to the hot plate - a human employee handles condiments and serves customers - plans are in the works not only to expand the capabilities of the machine, but also the number of units across restaurants.

CaliBurgers has announced plans to install Flippy robots across 50 of their restaurants worldwide by the end of 2019.

The idea of a restaurant fully operated by robots is hardly revolutionary. While there are several cases of where the concept didn't pan out, such a handful of failed attempts in China, there are also several instances where robots are proving to be game changers.

Examples include the robotic chefs at the Huis Ten Bosch theme park in Nagasaki, Japan, and the introduction of delivery robots by Domino's Australia branch.

Fully automated or robot managed restaurants will likely become the standard, and as the capabilities of these machines become more sophisticated, the need for human presence behind the scenes will begin to lessen.

Having previously worked on the facilities management Middle East (fmME) publication, I know that the FM sector has begun to explore the use of robotics, particularly around cleaning.

For example, back in 2015, Transguard Group partnered with Sealed Air to trial an automated cleaning robot at the Dubai Festival City Mall.

The Intellibot Hands-Free Cleaning HydroBot's design, which comprised of a comprehensive operating system utilises up to 19 sensors, succeeded in both navigating the busy traffic of the mall, while also keeping the hard floors squeaky clean at all times.

So throw in an interactive bot, such as Emirates NBD's Pepper, introduced back in 2016, along with a few cleaning bots and a handful of robotic chefs, and you've essentially got an
automated restaurant.

But while this certainly a great direction for owners of Quick Service Restaurants (QSR) to take their operations, what does this mean for the hard-working employees working the front-end?

If you consider that the average fast food joint employs roughly 60 people working over three shifts, such operations could be reduced down to five or less with the introduction of robots.

That would really only comprise of a manager, a handful of technicians and an IT specialist. Everyone else would need to be let go and that will result in a significant portion of the services workforce becoming unemployed and struggling to find work.

Where James Cameron and Gale Anne Hurd's sci-fi franchise The Terminator focuses on the ongoing war between the remnants of the humanity and Skynet, a synthetic intelligence, and its army of weaponised autonomous robots, in reality, the takeover of robots is much more subtle. It begins with our jobs.

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