by Art Piccio . September 6th, 2013
In the near future, you might very well be able to walk up to a vending machine and buy a gourmet burger – made faster, fresher, and to much higher standards than any fast food restaurant can hope to achieve. If you have the money, you can probably buy that kind of machine right now.
If some people are to be believed, the only reason that future isn’t the present for most of us is because American minimum wages have not been raised. If you read the Wall Street Journal last week, you might have noticed a full-page ad taken by an employer group campaigning against moves – mostly by fastfood worker unions– to raise the present minimum wage to $15 an hour.
The robot in the ad is a real machine made by Motoman Robotics, a leading manufacturer of industrial robots. The model depicted is a “restaurobot” that could not only prepare burgers, but pretty much any fast food item you could think of. Here’s an older version in action:
While not very impressive- yet, newer versions with updated modules and support equipment can do most the most repetitive kitchen tasks far more consistently than almost any human can hope to accomplish. As some commentators also point out, a robot can’t do bad things to your food and post it online either.
While the humanoid Motoman appeared on that Wall Street Journal ad, another robot manufacturer with less human-looking products, San Francisco-based Momentum Machines, is planning to launch a chain of restaurants that serve in their words “gourmet hamburgers at fastfood prices.”
The robotic burger maker is designed to do the work of three full-time kitchen staff and can make 360 burgers an hour — all while taking up just 24 square feet. This first commercial version allows you to select meat grinds and mixes, and also stamps patties, grills them, then cuts and layers all your veggies right before compiling everything in a bun like a deck of cards, then wrapping it to go.
The only thing left for a human employee to do is take the customer’s money and hand over the finished product. And maybe clean tables, mop floors, and all of that.
Eventually though, they could configure the system to work like a vending machine and all that could be avoided as well. Eventually, all an employee has to do is make sure everything works. Robot vehicles (which are already on the road) may even do the deliveries. All the the ingredients for burgers, fries, and shakes can come in climate-controlled cartridges for maximum freshness, and it’ll be relatively trivial to program the trucks to dock directly with the restaurobot, all without human intervention. A super-advanced roomba might even do all the cleaning.
Who knows? Since they can 3D print animal tissue now, maybe we can get meat as fresh as anyone could get it!
It’s doubtful that entrepreneurs wanting to break into the food industry will have to fear being competitive with either the Motoman or Momentum burger machines, for now at least. In any case, fast food does not necessarily directly compete with most other small food businesses. What a lot of people are worried about right now is the possible effect automation may have on jobs. Robots may be able to do things better and more efficiently – but how will people pay for those burgers if they don’t have jobs.
Even Momentum Machines released a statement addressing these fears on its site:
The issue of machines and job displacement has been around for centuries and economists generally accept that technology like ours actually causes an increase in employment. The three factors that contribute to this are 1. the company that makes the robots must hire new employees, 2. the restaurant that uses our robots can expand their frontiers of production which requires hiring more people, and 3. the general public saves money on the reduced cost of our burgers. This saved money can then be spent on the rest of the economy. We take these issues very seriously so please feel free to tell us how we can help with this transition.
This kind of development is probably unavoidable. However it should present plenty of great opportunities for food entrepreneurship and investment as the technology costs inevitably go down.
Even with the disruption about to take place in the fast-food industry, the nature of entrepreneurship in America won’t be changed by these machines. It’s all a matter of new doors being opened.
Employment Policies Institute Ad – Wall Street Journal
Hamburger machine – Gizmag.com
All in-post images from Gizmag
Cover Photo: churl via photopin cc
Arthur Piccio manages YouTheEntrepreneur and has managed content for major players in the online printing industry. He was previously BizSugar's contributor of the week. His work has appeared multiple times on The New York Times' You're the Boss Small Business Blog. He enjoys guitar maintenance and reading up on history and psychology in his spare time.