Spyce's human and robot workers

Spyce, the Boston-based company behind the eponymous robot-powered restaurant, today announced it has closed a $21 million Series A round of funding led by Collaborative Fund and Maveron (h/t The Boston Globe). This brings the company’s total amount raised to $24.8 million and further indicates that the restaurant robot space is getting frothy.

For the uninitiated, Spyce is a restaurant that serves food bowls prepared by robots (with a little human help for garnishing). Spoon founder Mike Wolf recently ate there and thought the food was “excellent.”

Robots making meals might be a novelty now, but those days are numbered as more and more automated eating experiences get funded. So far this year we’ve seen:

  • Miso Robotics raised $10 million and put Flippy, it’s burger-flipping robot, to work at Caliburger.
  • Bear Robotics raised $2 million for Penny, it’s front-of-house food shuttling and bussing robot, which got a job at Pizza Hut in Korea.
  • Ekim raised €2.2 million (~$2.6M USD) for PAZZI, it’s three-armed pizza-making robot.
  • Chowbotics got $11 million to expand its salad-making robot/vending machine capabilities into food bowls.
  • Details are scarce, by Ono Foods, which was co-founded by the VP of Operations for Cafe X, got backing from Lemnos, Compound and Pathbreaker Venture for its forthcoming robot restaurant.
  • Cafe X raised a $12 million Seed-1 round for its robot baristas-in-a-box.
  • While not confirmed, Zume, the pizza delivery company that has two pizza-making robots, reportedly was in talks to raise up to $750 million from Softbank.

That list doesn’t even include Creator, the new burger restaurant in San Francisco that opened its doors this summer (and raised $18.3 million last year). Or Alibaba’s Robot.he restaurant in Shanghai which has robots scurrying along tracks to deliver food. Or MontyCafe, the Russian robot barista that serves coffee in Moscow. Or the Blendid smoothie making robot kiosk in Sunnyvale, CA.

Robots are taking over and we won’t care because we’ll all be stuffed.

Robots, of course, are great at repetitive, manual tasks, especially in high-traffic, high-volume establishments. They don’t call in sick, don’t get tired and don’t ask for a raise. And with new breakthroughs, robots are getting better at doing more delicate tasks, which is necessary when handling food.

The other thing robots are really good at is being consistent, which is important when you look at creating a national footprint. Spyce says it will use its new money to expand the number of locations on the East Coast and further develop its robotic systems. As more people experience Spyce’s food and (ideally) like it, they know that no matter what Spyce location they visit, they will always get the exact same thing. It’s the comfort that comes from ordering a latte at Starbucks or buying a Big Mac, only with even more precision.

All of this funding in food robots will have a human toll, as traditional restaurant jobs (baristas, cooks and bussers are all impacted by the companies listed above) get automated away.

Startups in the space that I’ve spoken with are often quick to point out that robots can take over more dangerous work, especially around hot appliances like ovens and fryers. They also say automating some of the repetitive cooking tasks allows the humans to spend their time doing more complex tasks like customer service. Caliburger has said that they haven’t laid any person off since employing Flippy, Zume says its new robot allows people to care for its precious mother dough, and Cafe X said that their robot baristas will have an accompanying human to help people pick the best coffee.

Humans may pick the coffee, but as Spyce and others raising money are showing, it’ll be food robots that provide the froth.

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