The Role of AI & Robotics in the Food Industry

08 Mar. 2019

This year, Miso Robotics, the technology arm of the Cali Group, will begin rolling out its new burger flipping robot to its Caliburger restaurants across the globe. The trial run is just one of the various ways that robotics and AI are being employed to transform the way the food and service industries operate. Here’s how these technologies could further impact the field.

Miso Robotics’ new creation, appropriately named Flippy, is a mechanical arm that is connected to the cloud, sees using a 3D thermal scanner, and can flip burgers, or fry 80 baskets of food, every hour. The benefits of a technology like this for the food industry are self-evident – Flippy can perform one of the most low-skill jobs in the industry, without pausing for breaks, for hours on end.

Flippy joins a small, but rapidly growing, range of robots designed specifically for use in our restaurants. Bear Robotics, also based in California, have Penny – a self-guiding creation that is being trialled as a robot waiter. Perhaps most impressively of all, automation giant Kawasaki unveiled a robotic sushi chef several years ago

Sushi is a notoriously tricky dish to prepare, requiring a level of dexterity not usually seen outside of surgical robotics, but the Kawasaki prototype is able to carry out some of the roles of a traditional practitioner.

While creations such as Kawasaki’s are impressive, the majority of robots, especially the kind likely to be used on a large scale in the service industry, still have limited functionality and a very basic understanding of their task. Penny, for example, still requires a human to load and unload plates at each end of its journey around the restaurant, for example.

This is beginning to change, however, thanks to several new developments in both machine capability, and machine perception. One barrier to full automation in food preparation, for instance, is that the robots being used cannot distinguish between different types of food, leading to incorrect orders – and in the case of allergies, potentially dangerous ones. This is one of the issues that is being addressed by Aromyx, one of the projects that is being backed by Rewired and our lead investor Tej Kohli. Robotics and AI work best when they can comprehend the world, and Aromyx have developed software to digitise taste and scent, allowing machines to then identify them correctly.

This will help to remove issues such as quality control, while also ensuring greater safety in the case of specific health requirements. For instance, it could enable a robot to assemble a meal for someone with specific allergy requirements at the same speed as a regular meal.

The effects of automation are likely to be felt at the lower end of the market first , in fast food chains especially – after all, McDonalds have already begun to replace counter-service with touch screen ordering, while Yo Sushi’s conveyer belts are a core part of their branding. But as the technology becomes more sophisticated, and more capable of taking over an ever-greater part of the entire process, we may soon be wined and dined by robots at even the most high-end restaurants.