One of California's most beloved fast-food joints has enlisted the services of a burger-flipping robot as the state moves toward a $15 minimum wage.
CaliBurger customers will now enjoy the hamburgers prepared by robots named "Flippy" at its Pasadena location, and it plans to roll out the machine across the franchise. The Miso Robotics creation is capable of churning out 150 burgers an hour using "3D, thermal, and regular vision" to monitor the cooking of CaliBurger's "signature always fresh, never frozen, mouth-watering Cali-style burger." The burger chain calls the robot "the future of food." CEO John Miller said it will help speed up production and ensure consistency of its offering. He expects the company to quickly introduce it at other locations.
"The deployment of Flippy in CaliBurger restaurants represents a major milestone in helping our staff produce mouthwatering burgers more consistently and in a timely manner," he said in a release. "The ease of integration into our existing kitchen lines will also allow us to quickly install Flippy in more locations nationwide."
The expansion of robotics into the realm of fast food restaurants reflects the increased labor costs in eateries, an industry with famously slim margins, according to labor watchdogs. California is on the path to a $15 minimum wage by 2022—more than double the federal minimum of $7.25 an hour—after agreeing to a wage hike in 2016 as part of an effort backed by labor advocates campaigning to unionize fast-food franchises. Although the legislation gives the state some wiggle room to slow the pace of hikes if it harms the economy, companies will continue to move toward cost-cutting to ensure certainty, according to Michael Saltsman, a labor expert at the pro-free market Employment Policies Institute.
"It's no surprise that California—a ‘leader' on workplace mandates—is also leading the way on workplace automation," Saltsman told the Washington Free Beacon. "Empirical research and real-world experience shows the fraud committed by union organizers, who told workers and policymakers they could have a $15 minimum wage without an impact on jobs."
Heather Greenaway of the Workforce Fairness Institute said that increased costs on entry-level work will continue to take their toll on the workers policymakers intend to help. Wage hikes and mandated benefits take the sting out of Flippy's initial $60,000 price tag.
"It's not surprising that casual restaurants are adopting automated solutions given the burden that union bosses have placed on employers in the form of minimum wage battles and the intrusion of union-led government mandates," Greenaway said.
Miso Robotics insists that the machine is not designed to replace workers, but assist them in preparing meals for customers. The robot merely monitors the cooking of the burger and flips it according to its program. Humans are still needed to place raw beef onto there cooking surface. Miso Robotics cofounder and CEO David Zito said his product will enhance the experience of workers.
"Our mission is to improve working conditions of chefs and line cooks with assistants, not replace them," he said in a release. "Anyone who's ever worked in a restaurant knows how hard the work is and the value of extra hands and that's exactly what we built."