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The next time you’re having late night cravings and find yourself at a Jack in the Box, there’s a chance you’re munching on burgers and fries made by robots.
The San Diego-based fast food chain is partnering with Miso Robotics, the food tech startup responsible for the burger-flipping robot known as Flippy. After recently teaming up with Panera Bread to install its CookRight Coffee system and with Chipotle on an automated tortilla chip-maker, the Pasadena-based company announced Tuesday it would be sending an upgraded version of its signature burger-flipping droid, the aptly named Flippy 2, to a Jack in the Box location in San Diego in the next several weeks.
Flippy first entered the market in 2017. Miso initially charged burger chain White Castle $60,000 to install the first machines at its locations—an arm and a leg for a bulky robot equipped with a robotic arm that could slap patties onto a grill.
Five years later, the startup's efforts to scale the technology have brought down its cost down to $3,000 per month. Today’s Flippy 2 features a much sleeker design that takes up considerably less kitchen space. No longer content as a mere burger flipper, the upgraded Flippy has been designed to maneuver Jack in the Box’s proprietary fry baskets to cook everything from taco shells to fish filets to curly fries—freeing up employees to handle customers or prep other items.
Flippy 2 cooking Jack in the Box curly fries. Courtesy of Miso Robotics
There are dozens of Flippy robotic arms currently making burgers, with the early adopters including CaliBurger and Dodgers Stadium. Earlier this year, White Castle announced it would install Flippy 2 robots at 100 locations across the country.
But unlike White Castle, Jack in the Box serves a wide variety of menu items, from tacos to chicken tenders, that require more than just a spatula to finish the job—presenting Miso with a “a new challenge,” Jake Brewer, the startup's chief strategy officer, told dot.LA.
“A taco shell…that’s more delicate than a chicken nugget or french fry. So we were able to adapt Flippy to be able to accept those items,” Brewer said.
Once a food item is placed before Flippy, the robot's AI-enabled camera will identify the food, pick it up, cook it in the correct fry basket and safely place it into a holding area. Brewer said the company was already developing add-ons allowing the attachment of specialty baskets to the robot, but when the request came in from Jack in the Box, the process was accelerated.
Sippy, Miso's automatic drink dispenser and sealer that will roll out at the end of the year.Courtesy of Miso Robotics
Miso is currently putting the finishing touches on Sippy, an automatic beverage dispenser and sealer that will be joining Flippy 2 at the Jack in the Box in San Diego by the end of this year. The startup is currently in the process of raising a Series E funding round, having set an initial target of $40 million.
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How do we save restaurants?
As the food industry continues to battle supply chain bottlenecks, labor issues, razor-thin margins and the rise of delivery apps, the answer may lie in real estate. Even before the pandemic, in a 2019 report, the National Restaurant Association noted that the coming years would see a gradual trend away from in-person dining as delivery becomes more popular.
“Convenience will be a huge priority and consumers will appreciate all the options offered by restaurants…but they won’t always be eating at the restaurant,” the report said. “Dining away from the restaurant will grow in importance.”
The pandemic has only accelerated this trend, which has seen the industry morph via new models like ghost kitchens that eliminate the need for servers, cashiers and seating space with delivery-only options. (The most notable company in this space is CloudKitchens, an L.A.-based ghost kitchen startup launched by former Uber CEO Travis Kalanick.) Ghost kitchens phase-out overhead expenses like kitchen certifications and licensing fees; as a “restaurant” owner, you don’t need a lengthy lease to operate—just pay for the space you use as needed.
Earlier this week, Chipotle announced a $50 million venture fund that will invest in early-stage food tech startups that, according to Chipotle chief technology officer Curt Garner, will "enhance our employee and guest experience, and quite possibly revolutionize the restaurant industry.”
The Newport Beach-based Mexican fast-food chain is already incubating at least one of these technologies at its innovation center in Irvine: an AI-enabled robot called “Chippy,” developed in conjunction with Pasadena-based Miso Robotics, which promises to replicate the “subtle variations in flavor” of Chipotle’s tortilla chips so as to not “lose the humanity behind our culinary experience."
But robots like “Chippy” also cut down on the square footage usually occupied by kitchen workers and their food preparation stations. Piestro, another local food tech enterprise, condenses an entire pizza kitchen into a compact vending machine. Piestro is backed by Wavemaker Labs, a Santa Monica food tech incubator that funded "Chippy," as well as the autonomous bubble tea maker Bobacino.
This kind of technology offers restaurant operators the chance to cut costs at a time when they can use all the help they can get. It also threatens to automate a lot of human labor—which, of course, means eliminating jobs. And so you’ve got to ask yourself: Without cooks, servers and dining rooms, what remains of the restaurant industry to save? — Keerthi Vedantam
VC firm WndrCo, founded by former DreamWorks CEO Jeffrey Katzenberg, is looking to raise $450 million for its second fund, according to regulatory filings.
The Santa Monica-based company, which generates virtually all of its revenue from ads, reported first-quarter sales on Thursday that narrowly missed Wall Street’s expectations, despite adding more users than analysts predicted.
Meta Platforms Chief Operating Officer Sheryl Sandberg reportedly quashed two articles about her controversial ex-boyfriend, Activision Blizzard CEO Bobby Kotick.
Web3 startup Afterparty is set to launch an NFT-based ticketing platform for live events, with plans to use its Utopian NFTs as event tickets after a trial run at a Las Vegas music festival last month.
On this episode of the Behind Her Empire podcast, Heela Yang, the co-founder and CEO of Sol de Janeiro, talks about how uprooting her life to move to another country helped inspire her award-winning body care line.
What We're Reading Elsewhere...
- The Boring Company announces $675 million raise, and a slew of new hiring.
- Venice-based Sameday Technologies agrees to pay $20 million to L.A. to settle claims it faked COVID test results.
- L.A.-based SaveLive acquires concert promoter Jam Productions, owner of marquee theaters in Chicago and Minneapolis.
- A look at how Cal State Long Beach is preparing students for the boom in local aerospace jobs.
- Bird launches a bike share program in Madrid, Spain.
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Mexican fast food chain Chipotle has launched a new $50 million venture fund aimed at early-stage restaurant technology startups.
The Cultivate Next fund will focus on startups that “will enhance our employee and guest experience, and quite possibly revolutionize the restaurant industry," Curt Garner, Chipotle's chief technology officer, said in a statement Tuesday.
Chipotle, which is based in Newport Beach, has been active in the food tech space recently. The company partnered with Pasadena-based Miso Robotics to create an automated machine designed to cook and season Chipotle’s signature tortilla chips. The robot, named “Chippy,” is currently being tested at the Chipotle Cultivate Center innovation hub in Irvine.
“Investing in forward-thinking ventures that are looking to drive meaningful change at scale will help accelerate Chipotle's aggressive growth plans,” Garner said.
Los Angeles is home to a growing scene of startups active in food tech, a sector that received $39.3 billion of venture capital funding last year, according to PitchBook data. Many startups have looked to assist a restaurant industry that is grappling with supply chain issues and labor shortages; Wavemaker Labs, a food tech incubator based in Santa Monica, has backed several startups that aim to automate food assembly processes—including "Chippy" designer Miso Robotics and robotic pizza vending machine Piestro.
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