Fast Food Chains Slowly Adopt Automation

March 29, 2017

ChantelMcGeeFrom factory floors to Wall Street financial firms, robotic labor is becoming an increasingly important part of production for many companies. And according to the head of Yum Brands, fast food could be the next industry to adopt automation on a wide scale. This week CEO Greg Creed said that robots could start replacing humans at Yum-owned chains like Pizza Hut and Taco Bell by the mid-2020s.

Other fast food companies have already begun to experiment with automation. Wendy’s, for example, recently announced that it will install self-service ordering kiosks in at least 1,000 locations by the end of the year. Meanwhile, both McDonald’s and Panera Bread plan to roll out touch-screen ordering machines in all their stores over the next few years. In each of these instances, executives claim that robots will not replace human labor entirely. “We don’t make a lot of things until customers order,” said Creed. “I’m not sure we’re going to have robots replace people.”
Still, a burger-cooking robot named Flippy might challenge that assumption in the near future. Developed by California’s Miso Robotics, this “robotic kitchen assistant” can scoop up burgers on the grill and turn them to the other side with ease. Flippy can even unwrap frozen patties and alert humans when items like cheese need to be added. The chain Caliburger has started testing Flippy in one location as part of a commitment to install the robots in at least 50 stores over the next two years. If it succeeds, then the potential for automation in the $230-billion fast food industry could be far greater than executives currently anticipate.

Questions:

 

  1. Do you think that robots will eventually replace humans entirely in the fast food industry?
  2. What are the advantages and disadvantages that come with the rise of automated labor?

Sources: Chantel McGee, “In a Decade, Many Fast-Food Restaurants Will Be Automated, Says Yum Brands CEO,” CNBC, March 28, 2017; Shan Li, “Wendy’s Adds Automation to the Fast-Food Menu,” Los Angeles Times, February 28, 2017; Lora Kolodny, “Meet Flippy, a Burger-Grilling Robot From Miso Robotics and Caliburger,” TechCrunch, March 7, 2017.

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