Levy tests robot short order cook
A robot uprising of sorts is coming to a stadium or arena near you.
Levy Restaurants, in collaboration with California technology startup Miso Robotics, is developing a robotic chef capable of cooking in commercial kitchens such as at sports venues. The artificial kitchen assistant, named Flippy in its initial pilot testing, is an industrial robotic arm that uses a combination of cameras, artificial intelligence, thermal scanners and lasers to know when to turn burgers and remove them from the grill, complete deep-frying cycles, or chop vegetables.
Sitting on a small cart, the robotic arm is capable of instantly receiving digital orders, starting food on a grill or fryer, monitoring precise food temperatures during cooking, removing that food, and then alerting humans when it’s time to finish and serve items. The robot can even change spatulas from one for raw food to one for cooked food to ensure compliance with safety regulations.
“We’ve essentially built a third hand for overworked chefs,” said David Zito, Miso Robotics co-founder and chief executive.
The technology is set to debut this summer at Dodger Stadium, likely under a different name than Flippy, at a popular food stand at the ballpark offering fried chicken. That installation will be followed by one at Staples Center in Los Angeles, perhaps as soon as this fall, and a broader rollout over the next two years across Levy’s portfolio of sports and entertainment clients.
Outside of sports, Miso Robotics is deploying Flippy at 50 locations of California burger chain CaliBurger, which also has been active in the development of facial recognition technology (see related story).
“We think this fundamentally changes the way food service looks and feels in sports and entertainment,” said Jaime Faulkner, president of Levy Restaurants’ E15 analytics subsidiary that has been spearheading the robotics project. “This is a convergence of a lot of different emerging technologies such as [artificial intelligence], robotics and advanced analytics, and something we believe can move us closer to that frictionless fan experience we’re seeking.”
The primary goals of the robotic kitchen assistants are to provide more consistent food quality and faster service. And though Flippy takes the place of human workers at the grill or fryer, the aim is not to reduce employee headcount. Rather, Levy and its team and venue partners intend to move those workers away from lower-skilled backline tasks that often come with risks of burns, cuts and repetitive stress injuries and more into front-of-house and customer service roles that require more creativity and contact with customers.
First Look podcast, with robotics discussion at the 8:30 mark:
“Clearly there is some opportunity in an older stadium like Dodger Stadium to have better service and better throughput,” said Tucker Kain, Dodgers chief financial officer. “This is something that squarely aligns with our aim to offer better service to the fan and being innovative with emerging technology.”
Faulkner added, “in a way, we’re actually trying to use technology to ultimately have more human interaction with a fan.”
By shifting workers away from the grills and fryers and more into other elements of food preparation and assembly, the arrival of Flippy also allows for a heightened focus on fresh and local ingredients increasingly in demand by fans.
“There’s obviously been a big focus across the industry on fan experience, and this certainly aids us in that path,” said Lee Zeidman, Staples Center president. “We’re going to demo this technology and are very eager to get the feedback on it.”
The development of Flippy for sports installations, more than a year in the making, has involved an investment by Levy of more than $2 million, and a team of about 10 E15 employees is focused solely on robotics and artificial intelligence. Levy has not disclosed how much clients would pay to incorporate the technology into their venues.
Above and beyond those efforts toward piloting the technology, Levy also participated in a recent $10 million Series B funding round for Miso Robotics.
Several other food and technology companies have explored using robotics for cooking and kitchen prep work, including Bay Area chain Zume Pizza and robotics outfit Chowbotics, also in Silicon Valley, that recently introduced a salad-making robot.