The Bob Pritchard Column
A secretive robotics startup has raised a new round of venture funding as part of its quest to replace humans with robots in the kitchens of fast-food restaurants. Momentum Machines secured $18 million in funding to develop its robot that can make 400 made-to-order hamburgers in an hour. It’s fully autonomous, meaning the machine can slice toppings, grill a patty, and assemble and bag a burger without any help from humans. A personalizable variety of fresh produce, seasonings, and sauces will be available for each burger.
The company bills itself as the next Industrial Revolution, is on a mission to replace human labor. The founder Alexandros Vardakostas says “Our device isn’t meant to make employees more efficient it’s meant to completely obliterate them.”
The company has been working on its first retail location since June of last year although there is still no scheduled opening date for the flagship in San Francisco’s South of Market neighborhood.
In 2015, futuristic food-chain Eatsa opened in downtown San Francisco. The vegetarian restaurant, which specializes in quinoa bowls, automates the ordering and pick-up process. It’s since expanded to New York and Washington, DC. In San Francisco, robots also run food deliveries for Yelp’s Eat24 and pour coffee at Cafe X. Zume Pizza enlists a team of 3 robots named Pepe, Marta, and Bruno to make pizzas without any humans. Big fast food chains such as McDonald’s have been using self service kiosks for 2 years, and as Carl’s Jr. CEO Andy Puzder says “Robots are always polite, they always upsell, they never take a vacation.”
These changes, along with other evidence that AI could displace huge swaths of workers, have prompted the consideration of a “robot tax” to help offset the economic devastation a robotic workforce might bring.
It is estimated that robots put the low-wage food service industry which is one of the US’s biggest job sources, and its 513.000 fast food cooks in jeopardy.
But will the burgers taste as good … most likely. Will they be cheaper … unlikely.