Boston restaurant Spyce has opened, promising customers an affordable, delicious meal – cooked entirely by robots, reports Malek Murison.
Robots’ entry into the restaurant world has grabbed the headlines this year. While automation is nothing new in the sector – robotic sushi bars have been with us for 20 years – burger-flipping robots have proved too popular for their own good in 2018.
Now a new Boston restaurant aims to do things better.
Burger chain CaliBurger and Miso Robotics are still on track to launch their autonomous grill chefs in fifty restaurants by 2019, but – as previously reported by Internet of Business – that ambitious target hit a setback just days after the March unveiling of their Flippy robot.
It wasn’t that the new team member couldn’t stand the heat in the kitchen, rather that the company hadn’t anticipated the spike in footfall that news of Flippy’s presence would create. Meanwhile, the robot’s human co-workers hadn’t been properly trained to complement its abilities. As a result, Flippy flipped out on sabbatical just days after starting work.
Two months on, and Flippy is back online with a few updates and lot less hype, working the grill during lunch hours. However, there are plenty of lessons to be learned from CaliBurger’s false start with robot chefs.
Over on America’s east coast, another restaurant has opened that’s looking to avoid these pitfalls entirely.
Spyce: the future of robotic fast food?
Fast food restaurant Spyce has opened its doors in Boston, Mass. Like CaliBurger, the aim is to blend the latest technologies to produce quick, tasty meals. However, Spyce’s operations have been designed from the ground up to incorporate a cooking staff that consists entirely of robots.
This isn’t a case of human workers having to adapt to a robot muscling in on their territory. Instead, the cooking staff consists of seven autonomously swirling cooking pots that sit behind the counter. They take their orders from customers, via touchscreen menus.
Human coworkers add garnish to the finished meals – which is apt, because they are essentially a garnish to the automated experience; the robo-pots (ropots?) do all the heavy work.
Each meal is made to order in three minutes or less. The pots are temperature and time controlled, cook each meal consistently, and are automatically cleaned after each cover, according to the company.
“Our woks cook by constantly tumbling your food, which provides a nice and even sear. They are heated with induction. We have temperature control to perfectly cook your meal every time,” said Luke Schlueter, one of four MIT robotics graduates who designed the inner workings of system in a fraternity basement, before starting Spyce.
Behind the kitchen door
But all is not quite as simple as it seems. As impressive as Spyce’s autonomous cooking pots are, they still rely on plenty of human help; this isn’t quite the dawn of a robot food revolution.
For one thing, the Spyce team had to partner with Michelin-starred chef Daniel Boulud to devise a menu that plays to the strengths of the robo-pots.
And, more significantly, much of the less glamorous work takes place in an off-site kitchen, where humans are tasked with preparing meat and vegetables, parboiling rice, and generally doing the monotonous tasks that robots are supposed to save us from.
And as mentioned above, Spyce also relies on human staff to add garnish to dishes and offer customer service.
Internet of Business says
The traditional explanation of why organisations should adopt robots and automated processes is that, along with saving time and money, the technologies free up human beings to do more useful, creative, value-adding work.
However, outside of 24×7, lights-out factories, the reverse is often the case, as this example demonstrates: here are humans doing the monotonous, back-room work while the robots make a show of the cooking – just as in many supermarkets that employ self-checkouts, where human staff hover nearby in menial support roles, making sure the robots are working properly.
That aside, this is one of those innovative ideas that come along every decade or so to wok people’s worlds, so to speak. In the 90s, for example, a number of wok-based restaurant chains hit on the idea of getting rid of chefs entirely by asking customers to cook the food themselves at their own tables.
Robots, then, are becoming part of the experience industry – which, time and fashion dictate, tends to be about short-term interest and fast-moving ideas. So will Spyce be with us for decades, or just a year or two? That’s for the market to judge.
Either way, it’s easier for Spyce to manage the transition to a robotic kitchen than a company such as CaliBurger, because there is no transition, just a different design concept to begin with. For the same reason, Spyce can also deal with awkward questions about automating jobs much more easily. In the restaurant’s terms, it’s creating human jobs, not replacing them.
A statement on the company’s website reads, “It’s a new model, so we are not ‘cutting’ jobs, but our restaurant does have fewer employees than your typical quick-service restaurant. The employees that we do have, we pay well. The aim of this venture was to make tasty nutritious food affordable, and we do that by being as efficient as possible.”