A scrappy company is gaining a surprising and definitive early lead in fast food automation.

tech & work, innovation
Written by Greg Nichols, Contributor
tech & work, innovation
Greg Nichols Contributor

Greg Nichols covers robotics, AI, and AR/VR for ZDNet. A full-time journalist and author, he writes about tech, travel, crime, and the economy for global media outlets and reports from across the U.

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Posted in Robotics on April 26, 2022 | Topic: AI & Robotics

tech & work, innovation

Flippy 2.0 prepares curly fries for Jack in the Box. Miso Robotics

A few weeks back my kids went bananas for a robotic server at a local California Pizza Kitchen. For my next feat of parenting magic, I just might stop by Jack in the Box.

That’s because the company known for its round-headed mascot is piloting a fry cook robot and an automatic beverage dispensing robot, with the potential to further integrate the technology in the months ahead. The robots are from fast food automation company Miso Robotics, and the addition of Jack in the Box to its growing list of pilot customers, which includes major national chains like Chipotle and White Castle, marks a milestone in the whirlwind rise of a crowdfunded company that seems to be effectively giving fast food over to the robots.

“Beginning our journey with a premier brand like Jack in the Box is an enormous step in our commitment to helping restaurants increase throughput, reduce costs and create a safer environment for their staff,” says Mike Bell, CEO of Miso Robotics. “From tacos and curly fries to fountain sodas, the future is now for Jack in the Box, and we are ecstatic to serve as the company’s technological arm to assure a quality product gets into its customers hands every time they order.”

The story behind the story here is the rapid automation of the quick serve restaurant industry, which is reeling from labor shortages and struggling to keep up with high demand coming out of the worst lockdowns of the pandemic. There’s now a real sense that momentum is shifting toward robotic systems to add greater efficiency to human-led, front-of-house operations.

Miso is on a bit of a tear, having recently announced a tortilla chip making robot in partnership with Chipotle, an autonomous coffee brewing station that will be used in Panera locations, and an ever-expanding footprint for its flagship fry cook Flippy 2.0. Automation seems well paired with rising takeout demand during a pandemic-influenced tight labor market. Delivery, takeout, and drive-thru orders in particular have increased the need for speed just as demand is booming, and restaurants are having trouble keeping pace.

Jack in the Box is a prime example. In an explanation for integrating Miso, the company cited staffing challenges impacting operating hours and costs. Back-of-house operations improve restaurant-level economics and alleviate the pain points of working in a high-volume commercial kitchen. 

“This collaboration with Miso Robotics is a steppingstone for our back-of-house restaurant operations. We are confident that this technology will be a good fit to support our growing business needs with intentions of having a positive impact on our operations while promoting safety and comfort to our team members,” said Tony Darden, Chief Operating Officer at Jack in the Box. “We are looking forward to testing Flippy 2 as our new hire at our San Diego location!”

Interesting to note, the conversation around automation integration within the quick serve space has in part shifted away from careful couching by robotics firms about how automation enhances employee satisfaction. With the labor market tight, the talking points are shifting more firmly toward issues of efficiency, predictability, and cost savings. 

Miso is one of the most notable crowdfunding success stories. The company is primarily funded by individual investors and counts over 18,000 shareholders accounting for more than $50MM in crowdfunding to date.

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