The future of fast food: Flippy, the AI burger-flipping robot

For those worrying about the impending autonomous takeover, this article may not be music to your ears. In 2017, the fast-food chain Caliburger (I wonder where they’re located!) employed a new assistant chef: a robot named Flippy!

Flippy’s story began with a company called Miso Robotics and four Caltech engineers designing a robot built to flip burgers. When showcasing this off to industry professionals, however, they neglected one crucial thing: in place of a spatula, the robot arm had a fancy space-age flipping tool. Very innovative but also very difficult to take apart and clean. This meant the engineers had to completely redesign the robot arm to have it work with a conventional spatula whilst still being able to perfectly flip the burger.


Flippy works by having a human placing and arranging the patties on the grill before Flippy then flips (surprise, surprise) the burgers when necessary, using thermal imaging to detect the position and temperature of each patty. Flippy can therefore respond real-time to what is happening on the grill, making sure that each patty is perfectly cooked. It can also be programmed with a specific schedule to cook burgers at a pace that meets Caliburger’s exact requirements. He (it?) can even clean the spatula on the end of his arm whilst cooking by scraping and wiping the grill.

Although Flippy might seem a bit overkill, its uses extend beyond flipping burgers. Thanks to a recent refresh, Flippy can effortlessly switch from frying to grilling. This versatility is what makes Flippy a viable option for fast-food companies as Flippy isn’t limited to just one particular type of burger but can rather be reprogrammed to cook whatever item is on the menu and cook it perfectly. Every single time. From fries to chicken strips. This refresh also allows it to switch tools, critically maintaining hygiene standards by using two different spatulas for raw and cooked meat respectively. Even better, Flippy’s AI system learns as it cooks meaning that its performance over time will improve, just like a human’s.

Flippy doesn’t come cheap: $60,000 dollars to be exact. Yet more and more companies are warming to the idea of robot burger-flipping. In the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic and the increased push for non-contact and cleanliness, burger chain White Castle are trialling Flippy in September 2020 at one of their Chicago locations.

The AI technology can watch the grill and know when the grill is backed up, but that the fryer is free. Instead of those fries sitting under a heat lamp while 100 Sliders are taking up the grill, Flippy knows not to dip the fries quite yet, but to wait so that they come out hot and fresh. Flippy is able to know what’s going on in different parts of the kitchen and coordinate things.
— Quote from Buck Jordan - Miso Robotics CEO

White Castle’s trial will be eagerly watched by many other fast food chains, if successful, Flippy could be trialled in more locations and restaurants given its capability to increase efficiency, cooking perfection whilst reducing space, time, cost and human labour. Miso Robotics say that Flippy is designed to collaborate with existing staff rather than take-over from them but it will be interesting to see, as the AI technology progresses even further, whether Flippy’s growing presence in the fast food chain does come at the cost of redundancies.

Thumbnail from the BBC