From the The Peach Pit on Bevery Hills, 90201 to All That‘s Good Burger, the fictional burger joint is a favorite trope of movies and TV series with teenage stars. It’s a convenient hangout spot—a good device for getting all the characters in one scene—and a plausible job for a high schooler. Flipping burgers is so mindless, even doofy teenagers can do it.
And now, apparently, so can robots. The culinary tech company Miso Robotics has created “Flippy,” a robot arm with the sole function of flipping burgers. As a video about the robot shows, it’s equipped with cameras, sensors, and a burger-shaped claw. Its AI-powered software allows the bot to differentiate between a piece of chicken and a bun, or a cooked burger and an uncooked burger. It displays what it sees on a screen and can sense human interaction and get out of the way. A timer tells it when to flip.
Fictional teenage burger joints aside, fast food and restaurant jobs are a lot of real people’s livelihood. To that end, Miso Robotics is not billing this as a replacement for human cooks, but rather as a “kitchen assistant” that can take over one of the many tasks at hand.
As design researcher Don Norman—the author of The Design of Everyday Things and head of UC San Diego’s Design Lab—wrote recently on Co.Design, this is precisely the type of work robots should be taking over. It’s repetitive, monotonous, and doesn’t require critical thinking, curiosity, or much brain power. All of which means humans aren’t wired to do it that well.
“The very different properties of people and technology (machines) should make for a powerful team,” writes Norman. “People get bored when forced to do the same thing over and over again. Machines don’t. So why not relieve people of the need to do repetitive, highly precise tasks and let machines do that? Why don’t we design things to take advantage of the complementary properties?”
In Flippy, Miso Robotics has done just that. And just think of all the potential plot lines that can come out of a bored teenage burger employee and his scrupulous robot companion.