Undercooked fast food burgers are toast with robot AI

The company that invented the robotic fry cook has a new standalone AI for fast food restaurants. Here's why it's a smart play.
Written by Greg Nichols, Contributing Writer

The company behind a robot fast food cook has a new mission: Help humans cook burgers that won't get customers sick.

Miso Robotics, the firm behind Flippy, the robot-on-rails fry cook solution that's been garnering big backing and has debuted at restaurants including Pasadena's CaliBurger chain, has a new software-based offering for fast food restaurants that aren't ready to go full robot just yet. Packaged as a standalone software as a service (SaaS) offering, the company's new CookRight is billed as the world's first artificial intelligence (AI) powered cooking platform meant to keep human fry cooks from torching burgers—or worse, undercooking them, which can be a serious health hazard.

That last is a particularly strong selling point in the wake of a global pandemic that's left consumers more conscious than ever of safe handling practices. According to the Centers for Disease Prevention and Control (CDC), every year, an estimated 1-in-6 Americans (or 48 million people) get sick, 128,000 are hospitalized, and 3,000 die of foodborne diseases. A major culprit in these cases is exposure to bacteria found in mishandled or undercooked food. Businesses are particularly sensitive to the financial and public relations impact of illnesses associated with their service, as Chipotle can certainly attest. The restaurant recently agreed to pay $25 million in association with food-borne illnesses linked to its food between 2015 and 2018.

Miso is making a smart play here by leveraging the data-driven platform behind its Flippy robot, which utilizes AI to optimize ingredient handling and cooking. According to the company's product description, CookRight is an advanced AI platform that incorporates machine learning, sensors, and computer vision to allow cooks to track a food item on a grill and monitor cooking time automatically in order to deliver precision-level cooking. The idea is to simplify kitchen and inventory tasks while doing away with outdated methods of cooking, which include monitoring cook times via wall clocks or relying on employee experience to know when items are done cooking.

The release is also significant because it suggests that Miso has determined it can't thrive as a robotic platform alone. The adoption threshold for automation in industries that have heretofore relied on low cost labor is steep, and it's likely Miso is making a strategic pivot in service to its longer term ambitions. If it can coax some major fast food customers to adopt its CookRight platform, the up sell to a fry cook robot that uses the same software architecture will be much easier. It's a dynamic recalibration and, considering the litany of great robotics firms that have failed to find customers fast enough, it's a smart move for a company full of potential.

In addition to consistency and precision in cooking applications, the platform also leverages powerful analytics to improve food quality, drive efficiency, and save money by closely monitoring for supply chain issues. Robots may be coming for jobs in fast food, but for the time being, human augmentation seems to be the easier sell.

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