Out in California there’s a “fast casual” restaurant called Caliburger. As the name suggests, hamburgers are one of the staples on its menu.
Caliburger’s Pasadena location has a new worker called Flippy. Flippy is a quiet, methodical, highly reliable worker who doesn’t take up a lot of space, because Flippy is actually a robot. Made by Miso Robotics, Flippy’s design is simple — it’s a robot arm, bolted to the floor in the restaurant’s kitchen next to the grille. Flippy has a spatula where his hand should be, and he’s programmed to flip burgers and then put the cooked burgers onto buns. A human assistant puts the meat down, Flippy does his burger-flipping thing, and then the human worker finishes dressing the burgers to fit the incoming orders. The fact that Flippy has only a spatula hand make it easy to clean and maintain.
Flippy sells for $60,000. Caliburger was one of the investors in the company that manufactures Flippy, and it got one of the first devices. It has pre-ordered others, and it plans to install them in a number of its restaurants. And, of course, Miso Robotics will look to sell Flippy to other burger-oriented restaurants.
Each burger-flipping robot will be performing a job that used to be done by a human being. At about $60,000 a pop, Flippy seems expensive — until you figure that, with many states and cities raising the minimum wage, it wouldn’t take many months of operation before Flippy starts to pay for itself. And Flippy is never going to miss work, or show up late, or complain about its hours, or become distracted by talking to a co-worker. And Flippy is not going to need health insurance, or file a claim against his restaurant employer for violating a federal or state statute, or advocate for wage increases, either. Until legislators start legislating about treatment of robots, Flippy is a lot easier for employers to deal with.
Welcome to the future. And good luck finding that entry-level job that pays the ever-increasing minimum wage that is supposed to be an economic panacea and allow a fast food restaurant worker to support a family of four!