White Castle is testing a burger-grilling robot named Flippy

Jul 17, 2020, 6:18 AM

    (CNN) — White Castle is introducing a burger-grilling robot — and it might flip the entire restaurant industry.

The privately held restaurant chain on Wednesday announced a partnership with the Pasadena, California-based startup Miso Robotics to introduce Flippy, an automated kitchen assistant, at one of its Chicago-area restaurants in September.

“We are thrilled to bring the future into our kitchen with solutions that will transform the industry and make the White Castle experience all that it can be for generations to come,” Lisa Ingram, CEO of White Castle, said in a statement.

An earlier version of Flippy, which uses artificial intelligence to decide when to flip a burger, was tested at Pasadena-based CaliBurger in 2018. White Castle is betting that this newest variation will reduce the amount of time spent on tasks such as grilling and frying.

Flippy’s debut in a major fast food chain is renewing questions and concerns about automation in the food industry.

According to Miso, robotic fast-food workers could prevent the spread of food-borne pathogens by using thermal imaging to detect when meat is undercooked. They would also help limit human workers’ exposure to food, reducing the chances of spreading illness.

But automation inevitably raises concerns about taking jobs away from people. White Castle’s statement didn’t directly address whether Flippy would eventually replace human workers, saying only that employees would be freed up to focus on customer service and front-of-house operations.

Jamie Richardson, White Castle’s vice president of shareholder relations, told the news site TechCrunch that it was not looking at Flippy to reduce the number of employees, but rather as a way to save on food costs.

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