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Robotics Technology

Robots Are Already Replacing Fast-Food Workers (recode.net) 414

An anonymous reader quotes Recode: Technology that replaces food service workers is already here. Sushi restaurants have been using machines to roll rice in nori for years, an otherwise monotonous and time-consuming task. The company Suzuka has robots that help assemble thousands of pieces of sushi an hour. In Mountain View, California, the startup Zume is trying to disrupt pizza with a pie-making machine. In Shanghai, there's a robot that makes ramen, and some cruise ships now mix drinks with bartending machines.

More directly to the heart of American fast-food cuisine, Momentum Machines, a restaurant concept with a robot that can supposedly flip hundreds of burgers an hour, applied for a building permit in San Francisco and started listing job openings this January, reported Eater. Then there's Eatsa, the automat restaurant where no human interaction is necessary, which has locations popping up across California.

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Robots Are Already Replacing Fast-Food Workers

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  • by Anonymous Coward

    I can't wait for the day robots replace the Slashdot "editors". Maybe the comments can be written by robots too to get rid of ass-hats like me.

  • Machine (Score:4, Funny)

    by Kohath ( 38547 ) on Sunday December 11, 2016 @05:43PM (#53465179)

    Is there a machine that washes the dishes? That would be news.

  • I noticed that the local McD's has a beverage filler at the drive-through station which is an oval track holding 10 or so beverage cups, which proceed through what looks like a partially automated filling line.

    But this is really a progression rather than any new thing. We don't stop to think that the washing machine, the dish washer, and the answering machine took away a good many women's jobs.

  • its a white dragon. (Score:4, Interesting)

    by nimbius ( 983462 ) on Sunday December 11, 2016 @05:54PM (#53465237) Homepage
    This kind of tech has been around since the invention of the multifunction hot beverage machine. It grinds beans, steeps coffee, blends creamer and such to the users specification. theres not much special about extending this to fast food. mcdonalds has had pilot instances of french fry machines for more than a decade now.

    the trouble with these machines comes when capitalism rears its ugly head. hot beverage machines become brake-dust dispensers as the drive for profit leads to borderline rancid beans sourced from auction in a 50lb hopper. in the 21st century i cant think of a single person that would stuff 60 cents into one of these and expect a decent cup of black coffee (the arguable standard by which such a machine is judged to make other beverages.) Pretty soon ingredients like cheese are replaced with cheese topping, and other ingredients become dehydrated synonyms of their original embodiment. Automation of fast food is an excellent idea, so long as silicon valley understands that doing so further enables companies to cut costs and corners, ultimately delivering a mediocre product from an almost bankrupt franchise. McDonalds is the meat-space embodiment of this capitalism-until-death model, with kiosks to place orders and automatic fry droppers and ten pound caulk guns filled with toppings shipped four thousand miles across the country. Maybe companies will realize customers dont embrace automation if the machine is flipping garbage, but the continued existence of the 'hot beverage' machine in my companies breakroom seems to suggest companies dont give a shit what customers want in an automated form factor.
    • Of course, the flipside is that it enables companies to offer customers the choice of 30% more expensive ingredients for the same cost, or having a human to serve it.

      • by rtb61 ( 674572 )

        That flipside is a marketing fantasy. They would sell shit on a stick and call it premium quality, if they could get away with it and they already do with so many products. Trusting corporations based around nothing but greed is truly foolish.

        Automation, never forget how earth moving equipment replaced the truly hard labour of millions. The problem lies in the false claims of 'ownership' of all the resources of a country that are actually shared. Only insane greed, corruption of laws, allows extremes of v

      • Of course, the flipside is that it enables companies to offer customers the choice of 30% more expensive ingredients for the same cost, or having a human to serve it.

        This should be at +5 funny or something. It doesn't work that way.

        In fact, elimination of almost all labor will be a very bad thing once it happens. If say, McDonalds eliminates every job but the store manager, the stakeholders will have an involuntary orgasm. Then 3 months later, oh-oh, What do we get rid of now to increase profits? Last time I checked, Their customer base was old folks and people with kids. Neither group is all that concerned about the expensive ingredients. So I suspect that indeed, w

    • by amiga3D ( 567632 )

      Why would you buy such shit? I'd rather go home and fix a peanut butter sandwich than eat that fucking slop at McD's and some of the other fast "food" chains. As fast food has raced to the bottom I can't believe people still buy it. I did notice the local chic-fil-a had cars all the way around it in two drive thru lines while the McDonald's across the street had two cars in line. I imagine they were pacifying the kids with a happy meal/toy.

    • This kind of tech has been around since the invention of the multifunction hot beverage machine. It grinds beans, steeps coffee, blends creamer and such to the users specification

      Now that you mention it, why does the coffee that comes out of those automated multifunction hot beverage machines always suck so bad?

      I mean, the machine is grinding the beans, the water is probably filtered, it's got to be a drip or pressure process. So why does it always taste like ass? Are they stretching the coffee beans by

      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by adolf ( 21054 )

        Maybe crap beans, maybe just old beans that are open the atmosphere. Maybe poor servicing.

        Any coffee snob will tell you that beans go bad within minutes/hours/days of roasting (depending on snobbery level).

        As to servicing, there's only one or two commercial vendors for this stuff in this region. The coffee I get from these machines is always consistent and OK if from a machine that sees real volume and regular servicing (ie, fresh food is vended from the death wheel beside it, and coffee-drinking factory/

  • by Anonymous Coward on Sunday December 11, 2016 @05:58PM (#53465257)

    The answer: rank robots by capabilities, tax them as virtural workers, pay proceeds into Social Security system

  • Education (Score:5, Interesting)

    by mentil ( 1748130 ) on Sunday December 11, 2016 @06:03PM (#53465279)

    Luckily all the high-school dropouts flipping burgers can just go to college and get a degree in liberal arts. Problem solved! They've lived so frugally over the years they surely must have enough money saved up to pay for that plus kids/rent while unemployed.
    Oh wait, no, maybe the solution is raising minimum wage? Oh, that'll accelerate automation you say? Hmm.

    Institutional unemployment is best paid for institutionally (free education) or else the problems will be paid institutionally anyway (crime, poverty, social welfare programs.) I knew someone who never went to high school because her broke parents were too poor to afford the $50/year fee; if that fee were waived, that $200 would've paid for itself many times over in reduced social welfare costs.

    As an increasing number of people are shuffled into a decreasing number of jobs, it'll lead to wage depression. Higher productivity will lower costs of goods and services to offset this somewhat, but lowered job security and making more people unemployable is a more serious price paid. The only winners here are those who own the means of production. Publicly available replicators or central planning are potential solutions. Nationalized real estate + basic income could work as well.

    • Education would only exacerbate the problem. It costs hundreds of thousands of dollars to train a human, and many many years. It takes a few minutes to teach a machine a lifetime of knowledge. The one thing thing that computers are most advanced from us is their ability to learn. So the more knowledge oriented the job, the easier it is to automate. Robots are still far away from being good are physical labor, but making a lawyer bot is in our ability today.

    • by Kjella ( 173770 )

      Institutional unemployment is best paid for institutionally (free education) or else the problems will be paid institutionally anyway (crime, poverty, social welfare programs.) I knew someone who never went to high school because her broke parents were too poor to afford the $50/year fee; if that fee were waived, that $200 would've paid for itself many times over in reduced social welfare costs.

      And instead she got to chill out for four years to save 15c/day? Sorry, I'm not buying it. Either they were so dirt-ass poor that she was doing paid or unpaid child labor to help the family like a third world country, in which case the fee is just the tip of the iceberg of lost income or they're crack addicts who can't keep two dollars in their pocket and wouldn't piss on their kids if they were on fire. There's just no way I believe that this fee was the only thing standing between her and a high school di

  • Who will have the money to buy fast food, iPhones, cars, movie tickets, etc? This sort of thing contributes to the decline of the economy, to the betterment of the company's shareholders...
    • by mlts ( 1038732 )

      The Indians and Chinese, apparently... Microsoft has started to move their major conferences there, as opposed to the US.

  • It's amazing how an idea can affect us! The push to increase the Minimum Wage causes those businesses that need a low minimum wage to innovate. And the technology sector (that is, /.'s readers) is innovating. We /.-ers may want a higher minimum wage but we are systemically creating and refining technology to displace minimum wage workers even before the minimum wage is raised. We should be ashamed of ourselves! Actually, how funny the prideful superiority the average /.-ers display and the hypocrisy in
    • by sumdumass ( 711423 ) on Sunday December 11, 2016 @06:53PM (#53465541) Journal

      There are two minimum wages. One is a minimum the government sets for all employees to be paid and the other is the market minimum in which must be paid to attract and keep employees working under the conditions presented.

      The government minimum is largely static outside acts of government but the market minimum is largely moveable with unemployment. The easiest and best way to raise a minimum wage is to reduce unemployment and let the market for employees demand a higher wage. This is a problem however because the economy has crapped out so badly that fast food jobs are seen as careers now instead of first jobs and stepping stones on a path to bigger and better opportunities. The worst part of this problem is that instead of looking at the situation and saying we need more and better jobs, a lot of people are content outside of wanting to raise the pay for these menial jobs.

      When I got my first legal job (other than mowing yards and crap), unemployment in my area was low. I started at minimum wage but quickly progressed above it. All I had to do was basically show up on time and put a bit of effort at doing the work. My second job, which hired me away from my first employer at a raise, I went the extra mile for them and did pretty much anything they asked to the best of my ability and my pay quickly reflected it too. I was making 13 dollars an hour rolling burritos and flipping steaks on a charbroiler in the mid 1990s. $13 an hour might not seem like much but according to an inflation calculator [in2013dollars.com] one dollar in 1995 had about the same purchasing power as $1.56 in 2016. So in contrast, think of it as being paid almost $20 per hour in today's world and the minimum wage at then was $4.25 an hour (it went up from $3.35 when I first started working a few years prior).

      If employment was there, by necessity, the minimum wage an employer could pay to keep an employee would by higher than the minimum wage. Those fast food jobs would go back to first job experiences and as stepping stones for people to show they can show up to work and follow directions enough to be hired at someplace that pays more.

  • by ThatsNotPudding ( 1045640 ) on Sunday December 11, 2016 @06:28PM (#53465383)
    The folks with all the money realized a few decades ago: there's just too many people (as other than prostitutes and bodyguards, we don't need them anymore due to off-shoring, computerization and automation).

    But rolling the cattle trucks is a bit too on the nose, so let's go with Permanent War, sugar-based industrialized food, set them at each others' throats with race and religion-based hatreds, choke-off competent and well-funded primary education, and what the hell, add in the idea that vaccines are a bad idea.
    • Don't be silly. Do you have no faith in human intelligence? What's that saying about fooling some of the people some of the time?

      If you did all that shit I'm sure somebody would notiÃé.,&@,
      no carrier
      .

  • by LVSlushdat ( 854194 ) on Sunday December 11, 2016 @06:29PM (#53465393)

    I've been in a few Jackinthebox restaurants that have a touchscreen order taking system, you touch what you want, insert your card, and voila!! food appears by a human in a couple of minutes... I gather with all of the b.s. about a $15 min wage, these will become MUCH more common.....

    • I gather with all of the b.s. about a $15 min wage, these will become MUCH more common.....

      No, it really doesn't have anything at all to do with a $15/hr min wage.

      The efforts to automate fast food started when the minimum wage was well under half that amount. If you're going to automate a $15/hr job, then why wouldn't you automate a $6/hr job? You don't have to pay the robot, after all, and they never up and quit like Judge Reinhold in Porkys.

  • by AK Marc ( 707885 ) on Sunday December 11, 2016 @06:42PM (#53465483)
    BK's "flame broiled" tag was a marketing coverup for a major robotic replacement of human labor. Dismiss the burger flippers, and replace them with a conveyor belt. And call it "flame broiled" and claim it as a "taste innovation". There have been thousands of automation tools that have been implemented over the years. It's not a new thing, and it's not a new trend.
  • the video claims " we are doing something never done before" and is 100% bullshit.

    Frozen pizza companies have had automated pizza making processes in place for nearly 3 decades now. Your frozen pizza has been "made by robots" since the 1980's.

    The process that place in the video uses is horribly inefficient and is more of a rube goldberg entertainment system than a proven robotic pizza making system.

    • Frozen pizza companies have had automated pizza making processes in place for nearly 3 decades now. Your frozen pizza has been "made by robots" since the 1980's.

      Why does all food that is made by robot taste like shit? I'm serious. I'm trying to think of some food product that is assembled by robots that doesn't taste horrible and is not horrible for you.

      • by hublan ( 197388 )

        Why does all food that is made by robot taste like shit? I'm serious. I'm trying to think of some food product that is assembled by robots that doesn't taste horrible and is not horrible for you.

        Because once you've eliminated all non-essential employment costs, the only savings left is in the ingredients. Everything else is fixed and mostly non-negiotiable (rent, utilities, maintenance, miscellaneous overhead).

    • Frozen pizzas, made in a factory, on a huge production line. I'd imagine that they'd taste even better if you grabbed one before it's frozen and finish cooking it up.

      The ability to prepare one using fresh ingredients and pre-cook on site in a space more 'restaurant' sized than 'factory' sized helps for the 'fresh' market. They can be closer to the customers, even if they ultimately produce fewer pizzas per square meter of factory space. You then finish cooking during delivery lets people get a 'superior'

  • I might as well stay home with a 6 pack in my cooler. I like the interaction between patrons and staff. If it comes to that I probably won't go out for my pints on a regular basis ever again.

  • I think automation is the way to go, absolutely, if we can create technology to work for us, then we don't have to work, and more time to play and follow our own interests. This is a good thing for society. Humans shouldn't have to work if they don't need to, as a society on the whole.

    The problem is as they stop paying workers, that areas economy decreases as they are sucking money out of it into share holders / people outside of that local community.

    It's like mining etc. They're going to suck as much money

  • by XSportSeeker ( 4641865 ) on Sunday December 11, 2016 @07:15PM (#53465687)

    Look people, this sort of tech has been around for decades now.

    I don't think most people know, but for some of these automated restaurant ideas and industrial food machines, you read "it has been around for years"... you'll think something like early 2000s, but it's actually more like back in the 60s or 70s. You know that conveyor belt sushi thing? It was invented in 1958. It had a huge boom, then it fell out of fashion, then it started becoming popular once again in early 2000s. But here's the deal: restaurants with regular non automated parts are still the majority and the most popular.

    Wanna see something older? Try restaurants that serves food using vending machines only. One of those existed back in 1902, and it was in the US:
    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/... [wikipedia.org]

    A prototype restaurant is far from replacing jobs in a large scale, and if this is about robots replacing fast food workers in a smaller scale, this isn't news. China and some countries in Europe already used adapted industrial automation systems, robots and robotic arms. The fact that one restaurant is opening does not mean that it's economically feasible as a regular thing, doesn't mean that all restaurants will copy the concept, and it doesn't mean it'll work at all.
    http://www.theverge.com/2016/4... [theverge.com]

    Remember this Nuremberg restaurant from 2007?
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?... [youtube.com]

    How about this japanese restaurant from 2009?
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?... [youtube.com]

    Eatsa opened last year, but it's basically the same idea as the previously mentioned Automat that had an initial boom only to disappear years later:
    https://techcrunch.com/2015/08... [techcrunch.com]

    Right now, these automated systems are on average extremely expensive, single purpose, hard to maintain, and mostly seen as novelty both by clients and from a marketing perspective. We're still probably over a century away from a multipurpose humanoid robot that can do everything human staff do, in an ideal condition where the price, maintenance costs and usefulness counterbalances paying minimum wage or so. By the time miraculous robots like those appear, we'll be more prepared for the switch, and it'll happen gradually. And even then, it's hard to imagine robots completely replacing fast-food and restaurant staff unless we're talking about a future where robots are replacing humans. Because there will always be people willing to pay for a restaurant that has humans preparing your food and serving it.

    The base logic why things like that don't suddently happen out of nowhere is easy to understand: even if by some miraculous circunstance we managed to produce perfect robots that would work flawlessly and require no maintenance in all restaurants in a city, this would automatically put so many people out of a job that these restaurants would end up having no costumers to serve, closing down before all the investment put into it had any return. But of course, we can't magically create thousands of robots out of thin air overnight, most robots and automation systems nowadays have limited functionality that's not usually adequate for fast food kitchen environments, and culturally people are not used to and will take a long time to get used to automated restaurants.

    Perhaps far into the future we'll pay more to go to restaurants with an all human staff that will only be there simply because they enjoy working with that... but here I'm entering utopia territory. If we ever reach an age where robots can do most things for use at reasonable costs, we'll either have already implemented the universal basic income, or governments will be responsible for most of the upkeep of basic population needs. I mean, you have a damn army of multipurpose robots,

  • by p51d007 ( 656414 )
    We use to have carriage makers...the automobile replaced them. Use to make wax candles, we don't do that either. A lot of automobile manufacturers have replaced somewhat overpaid labor with machines. Low skill jobs being replaced by machines isn't hard to imagine. Considering the ton of youtube videos where kids working these jobs are screwing around, throwing food on the floor, taking a bath in the sinks and what not, I don't blame them. These are the same low skilled people that complain about a "living
  • Burger joint (Score:4, Interesting)

    by LostMyBeaver ( 1226054 ) on Sunday December 11, 2016 @07:57PM (#53465869)
    French fries
    In a factory, shape a potato into a fixed size rectangular prism, save the rest for things like hash browns
    Package the blocks in a multi-level grid
    At the restaurant, feed the grid into a cooling unit
    Have a machine remove a row from the grid and feed it to the cutting machine
    From the cutting machine, feed the row of potatoes through one at a time
    Per serving of french fries, press a matching metal rectangular prism into the top of the container to force the potato block through a cutting grid made up of cutting wires. The wires are found on the base of the potato storage.
    The uncooked fries land in a basket and are dropped into a cooker for a deterministic period of time.
    The basked is lifted and moved over a salting area
    Salt is applied from above
    The basket is moved over a funnel
    The fries are dropped and a container is located beneath to receive them.
    The fries are moved by conveyor belt towards the customer.
    The basket moves to another station to be pressure washed
    The salting area is cleaned by rinsing with water
    Once a day (or more often) the deep fryer is turned off and once cold enough drains the oil from the bottom via a valve. From above a wire brush lowers to clean the bottom and a hose is used to clean the rest draining through a second valve on the bottom. The oil is then refilled.
    The used oil travels through pipes to be picked up by a biodiesel company collecting waste.
    Empty containers for carrying potatoes are placed in a second rack where a new grid is built from empties
    Access to the grids of full and empties are reachable from the building side where they can be loaded and unloaded by a robotic truck.

    Burgers
    Burgers are formed and packed into a tube like structure that can be stored frozen
    Burger is loaded into freezer at restaurant in rows on a rotating base to make each tube accessible as needed
    A mechanism moves up and down the tubes to the next available burger
    The mechanism places pressure along side rails on the tube to stabilize the tube
    The mechanism using pressure from the back pushes (possibly hits) the burger and forces it out of the tube into a catching mechanism
    The burger is moved onto a conveyor belt and carried into a cooking area
    The burger is moved onto a heated and oiled teflon pan, a second heated and oiled teflon pan is placed on top to cook from above.
    Bread is stored in the freezer in a similar tube but as separate top and bottom.
    Bread is moved from cold storage using a nearly identical mechanism to the burgers
    The bread is defrosted by hot air as it travels over the conveyor belt
    The burger once cooked is placed on the bottom piece of bread
    The frying pans are flipped and moved over a pressure washer, washed and then sprayed with oil
    Ketchup, mustard, etc... are placed via tubes from above onto the top bun.
    A cylinder that matches the size of the burger and bun surround the burger and vegetables are slices and/or chopped from above
    The cylinder moves away and is pressure washed
    The top bread is places on the burger
    The burger rolls onto a piece of cardboard which is folded from the sides and then put on the delivery conveyor.

    I can go on for a while... I am 100% confident that it wouldn't take much time, effort, money or intelligence to build a fast food restaurant that cleans itself, cooks all the food, changes oil, etc... In addition, the restaurant can be easily designed to support automatic loading and unloading of all the materials from the delivery truck with no effort from a human. Additionally, the truck itself can be self driving. Additionally, given time, it would be possible to automate substantial parts of preparing the food for the restaurant.

    What I don't understand is... why do we even have employees at fast food restaurants anymore. At $15 an hour, I would rather replace them with robots. Probably could do it within a year.
  • by Dr. Spork ( 142693 ) on Sunday December 11, 2016 @08:51PM (#53466145)

    One of the problems of this world is that half of all produce spoils before it's eaten. So in the cities of the future, why not have centralized, automated mega-kitchens which receive trucks of fresh raw ingredients and transform them into healthy, delicious and customized meals? Sure, they only make fast food now, but there is no reason why robots can't execute the instructions of Michelin-star chefs, and no reason why such excellent meals should cost more than fast food costs now. Together with some sort of automated delivery service, this is simply a much better way of feeding people than what we do now.

    Just think of all the time we waste stocking shelves in stores, driving to them, parking, filling our carts... stocking our fridges, heating up an entire oven for the sake of a single meal, cooking, cleaning up, etc. etc. All that requires a great deal of total cognitive load for many humans, and much wasting of resources. The alternative is that a massive restaurant kitchen cooks up exactly the meal you want, with the freshest ingredients and flavoring details that you would simply not be able to accomplish in a home kitchen. Then the meal arrives through an automated delivery car network, which also picks up the dishes from the previous meal. The city could also have dining rooms with a direct pipeline to each of the city's various mega-kitchens, and these can host social or family groups who want to eat out.

    A world like that is actually quite achievable with tech that's already in the prototype stage, and it's a much better world than the wasteful one we live in now.

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