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Demands for efficiency, food consistency and safety, and social distancing have driven interest in automation among fast-food chains. White Castle today said it plans to roll out Miso Robotics Inc.’s Flippy grilling and frying robot to 10 new locations in the coming year after positive early results in its initial pilot.
Columbus, Ohio-based White Castle, which claims to be the world’s first fast-food restaurant, will deploy the Flippy Robot-on-a-Rail (ROAR) system into kitchens to optimize production speeds, maintain consistent quality and taste, and enable team members to focus on customer service.
Flippy ROAR goes commercial
White Castle decided to pilot Flippy in July 2020 as the COVID-19 pandemic posed new challenges for restaurants. They included the need to retain staffers but limit the number of people in a facility while maintaining cooking speeds and freshness. At the same time, order volumes shifted to delivery and takeout, and concerns about sanitation have been heightened..
“Because Flippy is fully autonomous, all the food is made with minimal human contact to reduce exposure to dangerous pathogens,” said Buck Jordan, president and chairman of Miso Robotics. “We all almost witnessed extinction-level events for Jack in the Box and Chipotle for salmonella and E. coli … and now the whole world is concerned about food safety.”
Miso Robotics said its combination of artificial intelligence and robotics can help commercial kitchens accelerate throughput. Flippy can cook 19 different foods including the Impossible Burger, and it has learned to prepare eight items for White Castle, ranging from crinkle fries and onion rings to fish fillets, said Jordan.
“Flippy has a lot of advances in programming food,” he told The Robot Report. “We’re able to train new items in less than half an hour because our computer vision and our system have become so advanced.”
In addition, Flippy ROAR has NSF International certification as an automated, contactless solution, said Miso. Flippy ROAR is available in a robotics-as-a-service (RaaS) model. A monthly fee could be as low as $2,000 per month per robot, said Jordan.
Initial results promising at White Castle
Miso Robotics said that White Castle has been pleased with the results of its tests at one location and now plans to deploy Flippy ROAR at 10 more. The company noted that its proprietary ChefUI software now integrates with delivery applications to synchronize order completion with driver pickups. This optimizes food preparation lines and freshness upon customer delivery, Jordan said.
In addition, the company has added sensors and camera capabilities to provide chain operators with visibility into real-time inventory needs. Miso said its system can provide and intelligent insights such as projection and recommendations for bulk orders.
At White Castle, Miso’s technology tracks production speeds to meet increases in demand, reaching an average of 360 baskets of fried foods a day. In total, Flippy ROAR has handled approximately 14,580 lb. of food over 9,720 baskets since the pilot was instituted in late September 2020.
“Artificial intelligence and automation have been an area White Castle has wanted to experiment with to optimize our operations and provide a better work environment for our team members,” said Lisa Ingram, CEO of White Castle. “We believe technology like Flippy ROAR can improve customer service and kitchen operation. This pilot is putting us on that path — and we couldn’t be more pleased to continue our work with Miso Robotics and pave the way for greater adoption of cutting-edge technology in the fast-food industry.”
“We have been so excited to work closely with White Castle to optimize Flippy ROAR to meet the needs of their kitchen for increased production, team member optimization, and quality assurance,” stated Jordan. “We’re giving White Castle new levels of insights with our advances in sensors and camera technology to help them better track inventory and better predict needs.”
“This pilot will run anywhere from three to six months,” he said. “The beta is probably going to be in the Midwest. We’re rapidly iterating a new version of the product. We think there’s a straight line to getting our robot down to $20,000.”
Miso Robotics is also in talks with all of the major fast-food chains, and it doesn’t see a lot of immediate competition, said Jordan. “The pandemic has accelerated a lot of these conversations,” he said. “Now, more than ever, we need automation to give the industry a boost and create new opportunities for growth.”
Toyota Research Institute recently demonstrated a prototype gantry kitchen robot, which is similar to Flippy ROAR. “Imitation is a good form of flattery,” Jordan replied. “I want to see automation everywhere, but automation in the home is difficult. At home, people want a wide variety of meals.”
“If a kitchen robot is built into the infrastructure of a house, then it can be financed as part of the home price,” he added. By contrast, “installation at White Castle is an overnight process.”
“Corporate chefs are really excited about automation,” he said. “They’ve spent generations trying to simplify their recipes enough to be bulletproof for entry-level workers to cook their food. A lot of the chefs we talk to are really excited to elevate their food and elevate the process by which their food is prepared. Food quality is going to go way up.”
Miso Robotics has raised $10 million out of $30 million through equity crowdfunding with SeedInvest. “We’re running a global campaign,” Jordan said. “We think this is important for democratizing the asset class venture.”
Editor’s note: For more of our latest conversation with Miso’s Buck Jordan, tune into tomorrow’s episode of The Robot Report Podcast.