One of my first jobs out of high school was working one summer at a busy Jack in the Box fast-food restaurant in Southern California. I'll never forget manning that flaming-hot grill during lunch hour, when there were lines of hungry customers from the registers to the door, our drive through was filled with rumbling cars, and my grill was jammed full of sizzling, greasy burgers. By the time I ended my shift, I was covered from head to toe with burger juice, and every cat and dog within a mile would follow me home.
Sadly, all that is about to change.
California-based burger joint CaliBurger just announced that they plan to replace their burger-flipping employees at 50 locations with someone -- actually, some thing -- they won't have to pay or buy uniforms for: Flippy the burger-flipping robot, designed and built by a company by the name of Miso Robotics. Miso recently landed $3.1 million in new venture funding to grow the company and continue development of its technology. Check out the YouTube video below to see Flippy in action.
This is a game-changer for an industry that has long been trying to figure out how to slip out of the ongoing demands of employees and legislators for higher wages, and Miso CEO David Zito (how's that for a rhyme?) is justifiably excited about his company's innovation. Says Zito,
"We are excited about the impact Miso's AI-based solutions will have for the restaurant industry. Humans will always play a very critical role in the hospitality side of the business... We just don't know what the new roles will be yet in the industry."
Ultimately, that is the $15 question ($15 an hour is the minimum wage that many people have been fighting for lately, and the average hourly wage for fast-food workers in the U.S. is currently $9.44).
Where will all the low-paid, fast-food workers -- at McDonald's, Burger King, Hardee's, Sonic, and more -- who are replaced by robots like Flippy go?
Of course, people have long been worried about the negative impacts of automation, artificial intelligence, and robots on the workforce. To date, economists generally agree that the impacts of these sorts of new technologies have been a net good for society. But I personally have to wonder what will happen when many millions of low-wage workers lose their jobs -- replaced by robots like Flippy. (According to government statistics, there are currently almost 5 million fast-food restaurant employees in the U.S.)
The good news is that it will be some time before we learn the answer to that question. Until then, fast-food workers around the world will continue to enjoy their grills full of sizzling burgers, and being good friends with every dog and cat in the neighborhood.
Here's a video of Flippy in action!