Automation Nation


Artificial intelligence — the ability for a computer to make decisions based on learned information — used to be relegated to sci-fi thrillers. But, thanks to innovative solutions in machine learning, robots and computers are taking on restaurants to make them smarter and more efficient.

The opportunity for replacing workers with machines seems a plausible solution for the constant battle faced by restaurant owners: labour cost and turnover. But there’s more to it than simply ordering a burger-flipping arm that can be set up straight out of the box and immediately replace a couple of shift workers. The costs of equipment, programming and maintenance can add up to a hefty price tag.

James Schuback, co-founder and CEO of Big Solve Robotics, a Canadian robotics company, set out to solve the issue of high-cost and high-maintenance mechanics by building Caesar — a robotic arm that’s affordable and user-friendly. Using burger flipping as an example, he explains, “Let’s look at the economics: the existing arms will run you at least $25K. You will need to contract robot programmers, typically an integration firm, set it up and test it for your unique kitchen setting and grill.” He goes on to explain the process could take months and cost more than the actual arm itself. And, once the arm is able to start flipping, it could potentially work slower than a person and still make mistakes. “But congratulations, you’ve got a $100K burger flipper,” he exclaims.

The high cost is why, when it comes to robots in the kitchen, large chains are going there first. Flippy — a burger-flipping robotic arm — is already in place at international chain CaliBurger with plans for it to eventually be rolled out to all locations. Zume Pizza, an on-demand pizza-delivery service based in Silicon Valley, made headlines with its pizza-making robots and $50-million raised in series-B funding.

However, there’s more to AI than robots replacing humans. Machine learning can be applied to overlooked areas to offer valuable insights; such as garbage bins. Toronto-based Intuitive, Inc. is piloting a smart garbage bin that sorts waste. As it sorts, it recognizes what’s being tossed and compiles data.

Founder and CEO, Hassan Murad, says, “We’re able to identify what people are throwing away and what people are consuming. [It] can inform facilities what people really like and what trends are emerging.”

Dr. Rob McInerney PhD., founder and CEO of Intelligentx — an AI brewery in London, England — used machine learning to create the first AI-brewed beer. The algorithm takes in feedback from customers and brews each batch based on what it learned. “We could have tried to find data that would help us determine what the world’s best beer was, but what we felt we could do was create a product that was constantly changing.” McInerney says. This idea of humans working with AI to create and to solve problems is at the heart of most expert’s goals.

“Robotics, if made available to people, can become a tool for creativity and fostering human-machine interaction”, says Professor Carlo Ratti, director of the MIT Senseable City Lab and founder of Makr Shakr — a robotic bartender.

The same sentiment is shared by McInerney, “New uses of AI will enable creative people to be more efficient and to test their ideas out much quicker. Ultimately, it’s going to help consumers have a better experience and get more value for their money,” he says. “I’m interested in helping people to connect to each other and using AI to do that.”

Written by Andrea Victory