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Artificial Intelligence Could Change the Fast Food Industry In A Major Way

Artificial Intelligence (AI) isn’t quite as futuristic and distant as we might imagine. Truth be told, most of us use AI in our day-to-day lives.

If you ever ask Siri, Google Now or Cortana a question, you’re using AI. Even getting online customer support or browsing through your Netflix recommendations is considered an interaction with AI.

This technology doesn’t have to be a full-blown, out-of-a-sci-fi movie robot to be considered Artificial Intelligence  — but some of them are. And some of these bots have started infiltrating an industry that’s near and dear to my heart: fast food.

With today’s constant talk of robots taking jobs and the rapid advancements being made in the AI field, we can’t help but wonder: is Artificial Intelligence going to completely change fast food as we know it?

The answer, I think, is yes.

Now AI has been used in foodservice for years, mainly doing processing jobs that take place in factories. But in the past couple years specifically, we’ve started seeing more AI at actual franchises, taking on tasks that we would usually see human employees do.

In May 2016, KFC opened up a concept restaurant that is entirely run by robots called Original+. The innovative branch was opened in Shanghai, China and is run by a robot called “Dumi.” Although “Dumi” still has a hard time understanding different accents and dialects, it is smart enough to take and make orders for customers in a flash.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?time_continue=39&v=JrGD_1haJxY

KFC isn’t the only chain to jump on the AI bandwagon. Domino’s Pizza in New Zealand announced in March 2016 that they would be incorporating artificial intelligence in its delivery service through a robot dubbed the “Robotic Unit” (DRU) that can self-drive up to 12.5 miles and store up to 10 pizzas.

The latest development for food industry AI has come from the West Coast burger chain, CaliBurger, which announced in March of this year that they’d be adding a new employee to their kitchen: Flippy, the burger-flipping robot designed to do the average tasks of a fry cook.

CaliBurger has vowed to invest in 50 Flippy robots which will be placed in CaliBurgers across the world within the next two years.

This announcement came just a few weeks before Taco Bell made a contradictory announcement, taking the stance that human interaction is what makes for a great food service experience.

“The caveat on technology is that tech is only as good as the experience that a team member creates, “ Taco Bell’s CEO, Brian Niccol, said while on a panel during Edelman’s Trust Barometer event. The Trust Barometer is a global summit that takes stock of institutions like business, government, NGOs, and media. “It’s an enabler for managers and team members to create a better experience.”

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We’re not sure if that’s true for every experience (who hasn’t dealt with at least one miserable employee at a fast food window?), but we certainly get what Niccol means.

It may not happen overnight, but the data doesn’t lie. Companies like Citi have published thorough studies to examine the use of AI in the future, and have found that automation will threaten up to 47% of American jobs and 85% of jobs worldwide. In all fairness, the timeline of this takeover is not entirely clear — so it could be any number of years before things get this drastic.

But that doesn’t make the threat any less real.

Even President Obama spoke to this concern and how it will affect Americans in his final address:

“The next wave of economic dislocations won’t come from overseas,” he said. “It will come from the relentless pace of automation that makes a lot of good, middle-class jobs obsolete.”

Wikipedia, Five Guys

In the irony of ironies, another person who is predicting this decline in jobs is CEO of Yum Brands, Greg Creed. Creed said just a few weeks ago that most jobs now staffed by humans in the foodservice industry will be replaced by automation in 10-15 years, tops.

If you don’t know, Yum Brands owns Taco Bell, so we’re wondering if Creed and Brian Niccol see eye-to-eye on this one.

Although the demise of our daily jobs seems certain based on studies and opinions like these, there are some who are choosing to see the silver lining. The Harvard Business Review, for instance, believes that saying “robots are taking our jobs” and not acknowledging the jobs AI will create is foolish.

An excellent example that illustrates their point is the phenomenon that happened when ATMs were first rolled out in the US in the 1970s. Between 1995 and 2010, the number of ATMs increased from 100,000 to 400,000, effectively taking the jobs of hundreds of bank tellers.

However, to support these ATMs, many new bank branches opened across the country. As a result, these branches had to be staffed by people, which, as you may have guessed, ended up increasing jobs in the industry.

Public Domain

Could a similar scenario play out in the foodservice industry? It’s not completely out of the question, although maybe less likely.

Say the high productivity of a robot fry cook like Flippy boosts CaliBurger sales through the roof, in turn making locations busier than ever. The chain may have to open up more locations, which would create new jobs for cashiers or managers.

But how long will it be until those jobs are taken by AI as well?

Unfortunately for foodservice employees, we’ll have to wait and see how the future unfolds. Thankfully for us consumers, we still get our Crunch Wrap Supreme either way — which is a serious comfort when staring into an uncertain future.

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Culture News Technology

Farmers Are So Desperate For Field Workers That They’re Resorting To Robots

If you ever find yourself out in the Salinas Valley of California in the spring or summer, you’ll come across quite a few berry fields, many of which supply Driscoll’s, one of the largest berry companies in the world. You’ll find workers out there harvesting the fruit, but not as many as there used to be.

Those who oversee the harvesters are finding it much harder to find employees to come work in their fields. One such foreman from Scurich Berry Farms in Salinas told me that farms in the area attempt to draw away workers with competing wages and benefits, and often times, that results in a shortage of workers for some farms as they all move to where the most money is.

Between that, an overall shortage of field laborers, and the Trump Administration’s crackdown on immigration that could potentially take out half of the available workforce, farm owners are struggling to find people to harvest their crops. Yields are affected as a result, with some major berry farms in the area operating at a paltry 40% yield due to these factors, according to the aforementioned foreman.

It isn’t just a problem in Salinas Valley, however. Many fruit orchards and other farms across the country are experiencing similar labor issues, and are looking to solutions to up their yields and fill needed jobs in a market where there are way more available positions than willing workers.

Most are looking to harvesting robots as the future for their fields. According to Popular Mechanics, a couple are almost ready to launch and can pick produce for 24 hours a day at a 90-95% yield.

Harvesting robots can currently service crops like wheat and corn that don’t require careful harvesting to prevent crop damage, but fragile crops like apples and berries are still harvested by hand. Both robotics companies (FFRobotics in Israel and Abundant Robotics in California) that are almost done developing machines for these fruits say they can pay back themselves in a couple of years, putting the cost of these machines at a couple hundred thousand a pop at minimum. Prototypes will be tested in fields as early as this fall.

In a future of food where these farmers can’t find enough workers to tend to their fields, robots might be the only solution to help ensure we harvest enough produce to feed the planet.

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Hit-Or-Miss News

Meet Pongbot, The Future Of Beer Pong

Beer pong is a legendary party game that continues to evolve to this day. Recently, we wrote about how robots were being used to add another level of difficulty to the game, when we discovered players began placing beer cups on top of moving iRobot Roomba vacuums, that move and spin around the table it was placed on. It’s too bad, however, that a Roomba can retail for more than $500.00, making it difficult to have Roomba beer pong tournaments.

Well, you can thank the Kickstarter campaign, Pongbot, for thinking of an easier and less expensive way for everyone to enjoy a good ol’ fashioned game of robot beer pong.

Pongbot has two modes; automatic and manual. In manual mode, players use a Pongbot-specific remote control to navigate the moving caddie out of their opponent’s scoring line, adding to the game’s difficulty and increased interaction with other players.

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Introduced to the Kickstarter community on August 22, 2016, the Pongbot project still has more than a month to acquire full funding, but according to its creators, this product is, “fully developed and ready for production.”

Looking for a startup goal of $100,000, Pongbot has accumulated more than $1,900 just hours after launching.

The Pongbot Kickstarter is accepting pledges starting from $5 up to $300. Backers who donate more than $300 will receive 10 full-sets — one set includes the Pongbot motor and the 5-cup caddie — Pongbot logo themed balls, and some t-shirts.

Think you can beat team FOODBEAST in a game of Pongbot beer pong? Become a backer on their Kickstarter page and bring it on!

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Fast Food

Carl’s Jr. Might Be The First Major Fast Food Chain Run By Robots

Franchise-Burger

Fast food workers may be in for some troublesome news. After a visit to Eatsa, a fully-automated restaurant, the CEO of Carl’s Jr. has some ideas on how to improve his chain of restaurants.

Andy Puzder, Carl’s Jr. and Hardee’s CEO, says that he wants to try opening a restaurant that has all-natural products that can be ordered through a kiosk. He told Business Insider that customers would never have to interact with a person while they’re there.

Eatsa, the inspiration behind Puzder’s dream, is an automated restaurant. Patrons can order their food through an iPad kiosk, pay with a credit or debit card and get their order through cubbies in a wall without having to talk to a single living person.

The humans that work there prepare the food and put it into the cubbies so that customers don’t have to interact with a single person.

Puzder says this idea was brought on by the government driving up cost of labor. He can’t afford to hire new workers.

It’s still remains to be seen how well such a major fast food company would do as a human-less unit. While some are comfortable enough to appreciate the solitude of order their food, others may need human interaction to express their preferences and concerns.

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Technology

Shanghai Restaurant Uses $150,000 Robots to Make Ramen in 90 Seconds

A new Japanese ramen stand in Shanghai is attracting curious customers for their two unusual chefs, Toya and Kona.

The ramen stand, Toyako, opened in December and is located on Daming Road in the Hongkou district of Shanghai.

Toya and Kona are able to serve four types of ramen and can prepare each bowl in 90 seconds. They don’t prepare each bowl from scratch, but instead are able to boil water, cook the noodles, pour the proper amount of soup and add extra ingredients like beef or egg.

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The restaurant owner, Liu Jin, claims the two robotic chefs cost him over $150,000 and sex years of research by a Japanese company. Jin told Shanghai Daily:

“You don’t get any problems with robots. They’ll never ask for leave and they won’t get sick.”

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Each bowl of ramen costs just under $9 a bowl, which is considered expensive compared to more conventional ramen places, but customers still seem to find their meals quite tasty.

Written by NextShark, h/t: Shanghaiist

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Hit-Or-Miss Technology

Robots are Stealing All the Food Service Jobs

We’ll be lucky if robots only steal our jobs, rather than also enslaving civilization and mocking our weak sacks of soft-muscled frailty. Roughly 47 percent of jobs will be replaced by robots over the next 20 years, says one Oxford University study.

The fast food industry is specifically at risk, since labor and food costs represent 60-70 percent of industry revenues, according to a Cornerstone Capital Group report, while the recent national dialogue about a $15-hour minimum wage for quick service employees may speed things up.

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And it’s already moving quickly. I mean, it seems like just yesterday I first saw servers using tablets instead of notepads. That’s been evolving too. Earlier this year, Olive Garden said it was going to install Ziosk tabletop tablets at all its restaurants by the end of 2015, so right there, tech’s limiting servers to basically just food runners.

But now robots are locking down kitchen gigs too! Hell, Momentum Machines went ahead and actually invented a burger-flipping robota step hopefully more toward Futurama than Terminator—and the bot can do up a burger every ten seconds. In short, the robot replaces three full-time kitchen employees, which is what the company’s founders intend to do. Why make employees more efficient when there’s money to be made selling “employees” to restaurants?

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And there are a lot of jobs for those robots to take. We’re talking 2.4 million servers, about 3 million cooks and food preparers, and 3.3 million cashiers. It hasn’t exactly been a booming industry either. Since 1987, fast food eateries have grown at 0.3 percent per year, says the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

That number is about to skyrocket if the government starts tracking robot employees, who never need vacation days, tips, or HR. So I hope you all enjoyed visiting your favorite server at that local country-themed family restaurant or rolling your eyes at every single server at Buffalo Wild Wings, because those days might be over soon.

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Technology

Fancy Pancake Printer Makes The Future Look Tasty

pancake-printer

I’ve never met a pancake I didn’t like. Ever since Mickey Mouse ear pancakes at Disney Land, pancake shapes have thoroughly impressed me. But I’ve never been able to pull off the pancake designs that Pancake artists like Nathan Shields can. In fact I’m lucky when my pancakes are even perfectly round. That’s why this new invention by Norway-based food enthusiast Miguel Valenzuela gets my heart pumping. This man created a pancake printer for his daughters and although it’s not for sale yet, the future is looking tastier already.

Valenzuela originally created his robot out of Legos, but stepped it up a notch with stepper motors, clear acrylic, and Arduino controllers. The new model can draw out any pancake design entered into the program, from your favorite Star Wars characters to architectural masterpieces. The design made it’s debut at the Bay Area Maker Faire and breakfast just got even more fun!

Follow the PancakeBot on Twitter and Facebook.

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Written by VisualNews.com‘s Paul Caridad

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Video

These Robots Are Able to Perfectly Decorate a Cake [WATCH]

cake-decorating-robot

The Skynet robots in the video flex their cake decorating skills, piping and icing to precision. It starts off simple enough, adding icing to each cake layer to keep the dessert together. Then, it covers the entire cake in one fell swoop, dropping a metallic appendage to coat it in chocolate in less than 3 seconds.

From there, the various robots demonstrate their finer skills. Decorating tips move without the aid of a human in sight, pirouetting over the cake, crafting perfect ridges and even awkward semblances of carrots. And you thought those neon-colored cakes at the grocery store were “hand-crafted,” silly us.