Food Robots are Coming? They’re Already Here
Tuesday 23rd May
Back in January 2017, visitors to McDonald’s in Boston were offered free hamburgers at one of its store. But they weren’t getting the burgers from the employees at the cash desk. Instead, they had to use a brand-new hamburger ATM that would quickly dispense one of three specialised burgers. While McDonald’s hamburger ATM, produced by Momentum Machines, was just a marketing stunt intended to draw interest in their updated menu, it seems clear to me that robots are going to be a major player in the future of the food service industry. Let’s check out some of the companies and trends leading the way.
Fast food and robotics
McDonald’s and Momentum Machines aren’t the only fast food players in the robotics movement. Take the new fry-cooking robot from Middleby, which can prepare French fries at the same pace as a human, but at a much lower cost. At $30,000 a unit the machine can run for 35,000 hours, which is the equivalent of under $1 an hour.
Then there’s Flippy, the hamburger flipping robot. Produced by the west coast chain Caliburger, Flippy gauges the temperature of the meat using sensors in order to be able to flip the burger at the right time. Once the burger is done, Flippy will put it on a bun, ready to be served.
The pizza industry is also quickly emerging as a likely place you’ll find robots. Zume Pizza is tackling the United States’s most popular food with a robot that spreads the sauce over pizzas and transfers them to a delivery truck. The pizzas individually cook en route to their destination so that each delivered pizza is given to the consumer freshly prepared.
A similar transportation technology is being used by Domino’s Pizza in Europe where a six-wheeled self-driving machine will deliver pizzas within a 3-mile radius. Granted, 3 miles isn’t a large area, but it shows the possibilities of the technology.
The fast food industry is doing some pretty innovative stuff with robotics when it comes to driving increased productivity on the assembly lines of specific food items. However the robots discussed above have their limitations and the furthest they can go is to perform the specific task they were designed to do. Things start to get really exciting when we introduce robots into the realms of fine dining and personalised food. 3D printing is starting to do just that.
BeeHex, Inc. has created a 3D pizza printer as well as one for cakes, cookies and icings. Its robots prepare the food from start to finish, and in certain models bake the food as it prints. The result is a pizza, cookie or cake, printed and cooked much more quickly and in a more personalised form than many alternatives.
Food Ink has also created its own 3D food printer, which takes restaurant gastronomic experiences to new futuristic levels with all the food, utensils and furniture produced through 3D printing. Having set up the world’s first 3D printing fine dining restaurant, the company fuses creativity, technology and food to create dishes that are also pieces of art. 3D printing with food still has some way to go with printers currently only being available for businesses rather than at a consumer level. However the technology is evolving quickly and it’s only a matter of time before automation meets the convenience-based fresh-food market on a wide consumer scale.
Robots present an exciting opportunity to the future of foodservice but they aren’t yet dominating the food industry. There are important steps in the lifecycle of a restaurant meal that robots don’t act as a good replacement for humans (at least not for now) – for example, we’ll always rely on the creativity of chefs to create new, delicious recipes and ideas. Robots will also have trouble finding fresh, good quality ingredients and making sure they get delivered and prepared. But robots are proving to be a cost effective and efficient addition in the foodservice and hospitality industry, so it won’t be much longer until we start seeing more robots working alongside chefs in the kitchen.
Find out more about Beehex Inc here.
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