For generations teenagers have taken their first jobs doing unskilled work and for many this first job was flipping burgers at the local burger joint. Be it a Burger King, McDonalds or just the small burger joint on the corner it was somewhat of a right of passage as they worked their way up. This was a job that anyone could do so it was always nice to know that there was always a job available somewhere. That is until now.

Burger flipping jobs may soon be a thing of the past. In Pasadena, California a robot aptly named Flippy has been employed by the CaliBurger chain to do what many teenagers have done before it, flip burgers. A computer system takes orders and sends them directly to Flippy who uses image recognition and heat sensors to know when a burger needs to be flipped with its robotic arm. A wheeled cart gives it mobility and it is also able to remove the burger when it is cooked. Flippy can handle up to 12 burgers at a time and 150 in an hour. Detachable tools which can be swapped out automatically allow Flippy to cook burgers to order.

Flipping burgers is a hot, greasy and dirty job and after hours of flipping it can hurt a person’s wrist and all for minimum wage. This is not a job that is for everyone and many burger joints have high turnover rates at this job. Continuously having to train new employees to ensure their safety and food quality is not cheap, even for a chain burger restaurant that pays them minimum wage.

CaliBurger has 50 locations and is planning to install a Flippy at each location. Each unit costs $60,000 each and a further $12,000 per year to run, certainly no small chunk of change. The lure is that not only does Flippy not need to be trained but Flippy will never be late for work, it will not need to use the bathroom and it will not need to take lunch (or dinner). Flippy will always be available to make a consistently cooked burger. With the minimum wage in Pasadena set to reach $15 in 2022 Flippy could prove to pay for itself many times over. Not only does Flippy not need to be paid no benefits like medical coverage or free food need to be offered. By replacing three people making $10.10 an hour, Flippy will pay for itself.

At least for now though Flippy needs human help. Flippy is not able to place the patties on the grill or add cheese to make a cheeseburger much less add extras like lettuce and tomatoes. Flippy is making some elementary mistakes but unlike some other fast food AI, Flippy is able to learn and is already overcoming some of its mistakes and the end result is a pretty tasty burger. Like all technology it will improve over time.

For the time being Flippy can only be found at CaliBurger. The developer, Miso Robotics, has signed an exclusive deal with them for six months. When that timeframe expires other fast food restaurants will be able to get their very own Flippy.

Flippy could signal a fundamental change in the restaurant industry. As the technology improves humans may move out of the kitchen and robots may move in. In a hundred years or so restaurant kitchens may be the domain of the robot and not the human. While Gordon Ramsay may have a few choice words to say about that there will come a time when restaurant-goers will favor only kitchens that have robots and consider humans in the kitchen unsanitary. For now at least Flippy will not replace humans in the kitchen, only help them.

Of course in a bit of irony Flippy created a lot of buzz which drove customers in droves to CaliBurger. So many customers that Flippy was unable to keep up with the demand and had to be taken offline after only one day to try to upgrade it to move faster. Burger flipping it seems still remains in the purview of the human.

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