If you read our newsletter (and you should!), you know that I’m in Los Angeles this week. One of the reasons I was so excited to come down here was to finally meet Flippy, the burger flipping robot.
Flippy is currently online at Caliburger in Pasadena, where it cooks up anywhere between 500 and 1,000 burgers a day, according to a Cali Group representative. Behind a glass wall, the robotic arms swings and swivels to turn meat over, change spatulas for raw and cooked meat, and remove burgers from the heat to set them aside for dressing.
Its movements are faster than I expected, especially when dropping off finished burgers. It’s a quick, precise motion, but almost jerky in its precision.
What was especially interesting was watching it interact with the human co-workers, who placed raw patties to the grill, added cheese and dressed each burger. Humans also do a temperature check on each of Flippy’s cooked burgers to ensure food safety. People seem to have figured out the dance they need to do with Flippy and have a rhythm. Flippy even fails sometimes, pushing a burger instead of flipping it, but its human coworkers quickly correct any problems.
For the humans’ safety, there is a taped off area around Flippy. If a someone enters that space, Flippy immediately shuts down until the person walk back outside its designated area.
On a screen above the work area, visitors can see what Flippy “sees” on the grill. It’s a not-quite-Terminator-like view of various burgers, each with a countdown as they near readiness.
Since I was there, I decided to order up some lunch and try out Caliburger’s automated kiosk, which lets you pay with your face. The kiosk and payment system is actually part of PopIQ, which is also owned by Cali Group. PopIQ is aiming to become a universal loyalty program used by different restaurants or gyms or any place else with frequent repeat customers. The idea is that your face becomes your payment system and loyalty card when you shop at participating locations.
The Caliburger rep told me that about 65 percent of Caliburger customers use the automated kiosk to order pay, but most are still wary of storing their face data and credit card information with the company. I too, was a little wary, as Caliburger has locations around the world and I wasn’t given a sufficient explanation as to where my data is stored and what governments of different countries can access. Given recent news about data breaches, this is definitely an issue the company should explicitly address.
Having said that, I was here for a story, so I went through the sign up process and scanned my face into the Caliburger system. The kiosk was straightforward with a clean UI and I found it easy to use. In less than a minute I was up and running. Once in the system I went through the touchscreen menu to order my burger and customize it. When it came time to pay it let me know it was scanning my face and that was it, my order went off to Flippy for preparation.
The payment process, while fast and convenient, could use a little more guidance. Once you pay, there is no clear direction on where to go or what to do next. The order just goes into the ether and you aren’t sure where your food will arrive or where to get your drink. You can sense why some people prefer to stick with people when paying.
Foodservice robots like Flippy are quickly moving from novelty to mainstream. Flippy is expanding its skillset and becoming a fry cook, Penny shuttles food and empty dishes around a restaurant, Ekim’s PAZZI will make you a pizza, and Cafe X’s robot will wave to you after it makes your latté.
And lucky for me, pretty soon I won’t have to travel for my next Flippy-made burger. Caliburger is adding Flippy to its new Seattle (where I’m based) location later this year. Until Flippy comes to your town, you can enjoy these videos of it in action.