White Castle hires 'Flippy' the robot

Cooking, cleaning and other tasks can be automated

White Castle announced a pilot program Tuesday to help cook burgers and fries using a robot named Flippy.

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The fast-food chain and Miso Robotics, the artificial intelligence company that designed Flippy, have already been testing the robot's ability to cook White Castle's fried foods at one location. If the pilot is successful, White Castle may "hire" Flippy at more locations.

"White Castle is an industry innovator, and we take a great amount of pride in our history -- never forgetting about the future ahead," White Castle CEO Lisa Ingram said in a statement. "With 100 years of quick-service success, the time has never been more perfect to envision what the next century of White Castle and the restaurant industry looks like."

Flippy is capable of cooking food, cleaning appliances, switching kitchenware or appliances, timing its procedures, recognizing and monitoring items, working up to 10,000 continuous hours and taking orders and training tips from staff.

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Ingram said Miso Robotics will help the restaurant "improve" procedures while staying true to its brand, adding that White Castle is "thrilled to bring the future into [its] kitchen with solutions that will transform the industry and make the White Castle experience all that it can be for generations to come."

Flippy is a robot "designed to operate in an existing commercial kitchen layout and to serve alongside kitchen staff to safely and efficiently fulfill a variety of cooking tasks," according to Miso's website.

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Miso Robotics co-founder and CEO Buck Jordan said AI and robotics bring "a very real opportunity to continuously enhance the cooking process and optimize taste for restaurants" in a Tuesday statement.

"White Castle’s brand is iconic, navigating new challenges to bring their menu to more customers, prepared in a healthier environment by staff in better working conditions that adhere to social distancing needs is something only Miso Robotics can do. We look forward to being a part of White Castle’s next 100 years,"

The California-based burger joint Caliburger was the first U.S. restaurant to "hire" Flippy in 2018.

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The coronavirus pandemic has heightened concerns of automation potentially taking over jobs that are mostly human-operated. The Brookings Institution published an analysis in March that found about one-quarter of human-operated jobs could be at risk of being replaced by automation, or robots.

"Robots’ infiltration of the workforce doesn’t occur at a steady, gradual pace," researchers wrote. "Instead, automation happens in bursts, concentrated especially in bad times such as in the wake of economic shocks, when humans become relatively more expensive as firms’ revenues rapidly decline."

White Castle has remained open during the pandemic, keeping its shelves stocked with grocery items and its drive-thru open for business.

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