a restaurant hamburger sits on a table in front of a roaring fireplace.
An example of a restaurant hamburger – probably not from White Castle and not made by a robot. Photo from Pixabay.

White Castle announced Tuesday that it is set to pilot a robot grill cook named Flippy, produced by Pasadena-based Miso Robotics.

The burger chain plans to bring a new version of the robot that can grill and fry food — Flippy, Robot-on-a-Rail or ROAR — into kitchens for testing and integration into operations beginning this fall. Miso Robotics’ CEO said robots can speed production, improve the allocation of labor and add a layer of safety to the cooking process at a time when health is on everyone’s minds. The company hopes to accelerate the adoption of artificial intelligence and robotics throughout the restaurant industry.

“Miso Robotics couldn’t be more excited to bring Flippy ROAR into White Castle,” said Buck Jordan, CEO and co-founder of Miso Robotics. “Artificial intelligence and robotics brings a very real opportunity to continuously enhance the cooking process and optimize taste for restaurants.”

As restaurateurs are being forced by COVID-19 to re-examine best practices, White Castle and others are considering innovative and forward-looking technologies. Flippy allows reduced human contact with food during the cooking process, reducing potential for transmission of food pathogens. That benefit has become a lot more valuable to fast-food consumers and providers given concerns about the spread of the coronavirus.

The robot can be more precise than humans, using sensors and intelligent monitoring to keep food temperatures consistent and ensure optimal quality and taste, according to the robotics company.

The head of White Castle — which claims to be America’s first fast-food hamburger chain — said the pilot is about building a future-focused kitchen.

“White Castle is an industry innovator, and we take a great amount of pride in our history — never forgetting about the future ahead,” CEO Lisa Ingram said. “With 100 years of quick service success, the time has never been more perfect to envision what the next century of White Castle and the restaurant industry looks like.”

Some may worry about the loss of entry-level jobs to technology, but both companies highlighted what they say are worker safety benefits. With the help of robotics, humans can avoid repetitive or even dangerous tasks, like frying, and focus on customer service responsibilities.

In a meeting of the county’s Economic Resiliency Task Force last month, Jeffrey Greenberg, CEO of the Sugarfish sushi restaurants, said he believed that roughly 200,000 of the 350,000 people employed in the restaurant business countywide had lost their jobs during the pandemic and related stay-at-home orders.

Many fast-food operations have been able to stay open offering to-go meals, keeping those workers employed. However, the stop-and-go start to reopening the economy and reports of widespread noncompliance with public health orders underscores the need for reliable safety measures.

White Castle was founded in 1921 and is based in Columbus, Ohio. Most of the chain’s restaurants are located in the Midwest.

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