RoboFries

If you’re worried about your job getting taken over by the robot uprising, then today is your day. Over on The Takeout, Dennis Lee reports on how White Castle is gearing up to use a robot named Flippy to work its fry stations.

Specifically, the Flippy 2 is a second-generation robot that will be able to handle working a fry station in a more consistent way than a person can. The Flippy 2 can recognize different types of food such as fries, onion rings, and chicken fingers. More importantly, it frees up employees to handle other tasks instead of losing track of the fryer and overcooking food, which can happen quite easily.

I watched as Flippy went over to the loading station, where it took a bin of uncooked product, and zipped it over to a hot deep fryer. The arm remained on standby as the food cooked, and when it was done, Flippy picked up the basket with its clamp-like grip, and shook the basket to get the excess oil off the food. This was the most human-like motion Flippy would exhibit while I was watching.

I looked around at the kitchen staff, who weren’t phased by Flippy one bit. They were all busy working on their own tasks. If my coworker was a robot I’d probably be staring at it all day, but I suppose you get used to it pretty quick.

Did it feel like Flippy was there to replace people? It was hard to say, but my gut impression was that the robot honestly wasn’t there to replace as much as some people fear. Consistency on a fry station isn’t easy, and as Williams mentioned, this left an employee free to interact with the steady stream of customers that were coming to the counter and through the drive-thru during my visit.

The Takeout

While the idea of the Flippy can be silly but also worrying that automation is coming for jobs people do now, we should remember this is already taking place. And the results are way better. McDonald’s hasn’t hand-filled a drink cup in years. Cars have been partially assembled by machines for decades. When something needs precision like a deep fryer, it makes perfect sense to have a machine do it. A minute too long in the basket can mean overcooked food and wasted food that ends up getting thrown out. If this makes the job easier for other employees and gives consistent onion rings, I’m all for it.

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