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Burger-flipping robot makes debut at California fast food chain

Flippy the robot cooks burgers at CaliBurger in Pasadena, CA. (Image source: Vimeo screencap.)

At the CaliBurger in Pasadena, CA, the grill is now being "manned" by a robot named Flippy.

But human workers aren't being entirely replaced just yet. Through artificial intelligence, Flippy learns from a colleague who fills the grill with raw patties and then lets the robot mostly take over. A co-worker is also needed to add cheese to burgers, since Flippy hasn't learned that skill yet either.

KTLA-TV covered Flippy's debut, and sampled the fruits of the robot's labor ahead of its first full-time shift, which starts Monday.

John Miller, CEO of Cali Group which runs CaliBurger, told KTLA that the importance of product consistency was the driving force behind implementing the new technology, saying that soon "anytime you go into a CaliBurger anywhere you know that the patty will be cooked exactly the same." But having Flippy take over the grill cook position will also save the chain money in turnover costs and increase worker safety.

Miso Robotics developed Flippy, offering the base model starting at $60,000. The firm's CEO and co-founder, David Zito told KTLA that "this technology is not about replacing jobs - we see Flippy as the third hand." He added  "The kitchen of the future will always have people in it, but we see that kitchen as having people and robots."

Flippy can recognize and monitor the food on the grill using thermal imaging, and has the ability to churn out as many as 300 burgers per hour. The robot automatically switches spatulas and cleans the grill, ensuring food safety.

Increases in the minimum wage and a further need for automation are the driving forces behind evidence that robots will be replacing more and more workers' jobs. Investor's Business Daily points to the fact that California's minimum wage is set to continually climb to hit the $15 an hour mark by 2022, and employers have responded to those wage increases with measures to offset them.

Chains like Wendy's and McDonald's started replacing human workers with self-service ordering kiosks years ago. But an added reason for CaliBurger "hiring" Flippy as a grill cook is to utilize their workers in other positions that aren't as grueling. "It's not a fun job — it's hot, it's greasy, it's dirty," said Miller.

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