Burger-bot Flippy is back at work, two months after its introduction brought in more customers than the robot’s colleagues at CaliBurger could handle.
The patty-grilling and flipping robot was introduced by CaliBurger and Miso Robotics in March, at the burger chain’s Pasadena branch. But after word got around that a robot chef was ‘manning’ the grill, its human counterparts struggled to keep up with demand and the restaurant had to employ more staff.
CaliBurger found that its costs went up, not down, as a result, and after just a week on the job, Flippy was forced into early retirement. It worked too fast for human beings to cope with, and news of its appointment caused a surge in business that the chain hadn’t prepared for.
“We got a little ahead of ourselves,” said David Zito, CEO of Miso Robotics, and “were overwhelmed by the response.”
A few tweaks – and no fanfare
There were also issues with how well Flippy integrated into the kitchen, and suggestions that staff hadn’t been trained well enough to understand the robot’s strengths and weaknesses.
Although Flippy has the ability to flip burgers, determine when they are perfectly cooked, and take them off the grill, the robot was initially having trouble placing finished burgers on the tray with accuracy.
“Now he sees better,” explained Zito, and it appears that CaliBurger is once again running smoothly.
The chain decided to re-appoint Flippy at the beginning of May – with no fanfare. The restaurant reports that, since then, the robot has worked every lunch shift, averaging 300 flipped burgers a day.
CaliBurger remains on track to launch 50 more Flippy robots across the chain by 2019, confirmed Zito.
To date, nobody at the company has lost their job because of the robot’s introduction, said Zito. Flippy can’t work without humans alongside it – for now, at least.
Internet of Business says
The Flippy story offers a perfect lesson in the unintended consequences of robotics. Here was a company that assumed that a robot would appear, work faster and better than humans, lower costs, and create a simple equation of ‘bot in, butt out’ in human terms.
CaliBurger also assumed that the popularity of robots would guarantee a good news story, but hadn’t prepared for the knock-on effects of that.
The output of that poor thought process was: increased costs, business it couldn’t handle, and worldwide negative publicity just days after a spike of popular interest.
The message couldn’t be clearer: Outside of the manufacturing sector, where 24×7 lights-out factories certainly work faster and smarter than human production lines, don’t assume that all robots automatically cut costs and reduce staffing levels in simple, empirical terms.
Machines need to be integrated with human processes, they create unusual challenges, and demand new skills of their flesh and blood colleagues.
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