Automation Goes Gourmet

Today’s robots build our cars and sort our mail…

But tomorrow’s robots are already beginning to prepare our meals, keep company with our elders, and replace us in thousands of mundane — and not so mundane — jobs.

The workload of robots has dramatically expanded, taking on human tasks that make them part of the family and work force.

The investment opportunities will be as plentiful as robots themselves.

From 2015 through 2019, the global market for automation and related services will almost double from $71 billion to more than $135 billion.

The reasons: The bottom line and efficiency.

Getting the product to the consumer with the least amount of human labor at the fastest speed will drive this growth.

And the first place we are seeing this transformation is in a place you might visit frequently – fast food restaurants.

Take a look at Eatsa, a San Francisco restaurant start-up. It has national ambitions that are going robotic. It’s a fast food model to follow.

At Eatsa, you order by pressing buttons at an automated kiosk. Key in your name, swipe your plastic card (no cash accepted), and within four minutes your order is delivered through the restaurant’s rear wall into a cubby resembling an oversized post office box with your name projected on the door.

Although Eatsa’s front end is fully automated, there are still three very human cooks toiling in the kitchen.

Eatsa is emblematic of the industry’s growing reliance on artificial intelligence.  Wendy’s, for example, is installing ordering kiosks in its 6,000 U.S. restaurants, although the company leaves it to each franchisee whether to adopt them.

But that, too, may end someday.

Financially, the move makes sense to burger chains Hardee’s and Carl’s Jr. The chains will invest steadily in automating customer interactions, in part to defend against the push for a $15-an-hour minimum wage and fast food’s high rate of employee turnover. Unlike kiosks, people also take sick days and sometimes screw up a customer’s order.

Another plus:  people under age 40 often prefer dealing with digital devices instead of people…

Andrew Puzder, CEO of Hardee’s and Carl’s Jr., reports seeing customers queue at a restaurant kiosk to order while human order-takers stand idle at the counter.

However, Puzder isn’t ready to automate the kitchen, where human cooks will still be needed to respond to special orders.

Or maybe not.

Momentum Machines, another San Francisco firm, has unveiled a burger-making robot.

Taking up just 24 square feet of kitchen space, it grinds meat at one end, forms a patty and drops it in its oven. While the meat is cooking to the customer’s order, the machine opens a bun, shreds fresh lettuce and adds the condiments requested. It then assembles the burger, wraps it and sends it down a delivery chute.

The company claims the machine can spit out 400 burgers an hour and replace up to three fast-food fry cooks that might cost upwards of $100,000 a year in wages, training and other expenses. To prove it works, Momentum will soon open its own burger joint in its home town.

For those who prefer food that doesn’t come in a paper sack, automation also is going gourmet. A four-man team of MIT students is preparing to take their robotic Spyce Kitchen commercial. At present, the unit offers a choice of five one-bowl dishes, including chickpea coconut curry on couscous and shrimp andouille jambalaya.

Orders are placed through a smartphone app or kiosk that allow diners to tailor seasonings and other ingredients to taste. A conveyor brings ingredients to a pot, which mixes and cooks the dish, then returns the used pot to a dishwasher.

The unit can make two meals at a time, takes up just 20 square feet, and, the inventors say, can sling half as much food as a full-size quick-meal restaurant.

The Spyce Kitchen is awaiting Food and Drug Administration approval.

Robots will be whipping up your meals in no time.

Till next time,

Gerald Celente
for The Daily Reckoning

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