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Chipotle is testing a new tortilla chip robot (no, really!)

How Miso is changing fast food from the kitchen out.
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Written by Greg Nichols, Contributor on
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Chipotle

We love our robots, and the quirkier the better. Doesn't get much more smile-inducing than a new model from food service robotics pioneer Miso Robotics, which is designed to cook and freshly season tortilla chips to order.

Miso is a growing tech company to watch, an early leader in the push to automate fast food, at least when it comes to the actual cooking part. Miso's burger and chicken wing preparing robots (Flippy is the best known) tend a griddle just like a human chef, making them easy to integrate into existing kitchens, and have scored big votes of confidence from national chains like White Castle and Buffalo Wild Wings.

Chipotle is the latest brand to dip a toe in automation. The chain is partnering with Miso on a robot named Chippy, an autonomous kitchen assistant that integrates culinary traditions with artificial intelligence to make tortilla chips. 

"We are always exploring opportunities to enhance our employee and guest experience. Our goal is to drive efficiencies through collaborative robotics that will enable Chipotle's crew members to focus on other tasks in the restaurant," said Curt Garner, Chief Technology Officer, Chipotle.

One of the big draws for national brands at this early adoption stage is Miso's strategy of customization. Chipotle's culinary team guided Miso in tailoring its technology to replicate Chipotle's exact recipe – using corn masa flour, water and sunflower oil – to cook chips that are indistinguishable from human made counterparts. Chipotle's chips are finished with a dusting of seasoning and a hint of fresh lime juice.

"Everyone loves finding a chip with a little more salt or an extra hint of lime," said Nevielle Panthaky, Vice President of Culinary, Chipotle. "To ensure we didn't lose the humanity behind our culinary experience, we trained Chippy extensively to ensure the output mirrored our current product, delivering some subtle variations in flavor that our guests expect."

That's an interesting window into one of the pitfalls (and possible opportunities) of automation. Much like the unplanned artifacts and saturated colors of vintage film, something can be lost in the pursuit of technologically abetted perfection. Miso's robot, then, was trained to embrace some measure of inconsistency.

Chippy is currently being tested at the Chipotle Cultivate Center, Chipotle's innovation hub in Irvine, Calif., and will be integrated into a Chipotle restaurant in Southern California later this year.

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