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The Robots Are Here, And Making You Fries

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A kitchen robot oversees the making of french fries.

Credit: Maggie Shannon

t the end of July, a Jack in the Box in Chula Vista, Calif., got a new employee. He stood there for a couple of weeks while other workers swirled around him, jockeying between flat top and fryer, filling up paper sleeves with the tacos that the fast-food brand sells every year by the hundred million.

And then, having learned the ropes, he began to work, focusing exclusively on the fry station, dropping baskets of seasoned curly fries and stuffed jalapeños into vats of oil, eagle-eyeing when they were perfectly golden. He doesn't take breaks, never shirks when the boss isn't looking, won't call out sick or lean heavy on the company health insurance. But that doesn't mean he comes cheap. Flippy the Robot cost $50 million to develop, and cost Jack in the Box about $5,000 for installation and $3,500 per month for rental.

Restaurants have toyed with robotics for years, cropping up as early as 1983 when Two Panda Deli in Pasadena, Calif., used robots to schlep Chinese food from the kitchen to customers. There have been sushi-rolling robots and coffee-brewing robots and tiny drone "iTray" waiters: Often they are consumer-facing, a form of customer entertainment and "value added" to set a brand apart.

But now — with restaurants facing a protracted labor shortage and robotic technology becoming both better and cheaper — restaurant brands are doing new math. How long before an initial technology investment pays off? How long will it take to train human employees to work alongside robot co-workers? And, ultimately, how many restaurant jobs will be permanently commandeered by robots?

From The Washington Post
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