Are Robotic Devices the Future of the Food Industry?

The city of Boston is home to many universities, thus causing it to be home to many broke college students. Yet, even with the mass amount of students in the city, Boston is not one of the cheapest places to live. When Michael Farid, Brady Knight, Kale Rogers, and Luke Schlueter were studying at MIT they found it impossible to find a cheap meal in Boston that was decent quality and somewhat healthy. Unable to afford spending $10 to $12 on a single meal, they decided to create their own affordable cuisine. As robotic-obsessed engineers they set out to find a new efficient way of cooking food, creating prototypes in their fraternity basement, the idea of Spyce was born.

spyce-founders

Spyce is a fast-casual, quick service restaurant that serves bowls, with the help from technology. It is one of the world’s first restaurant with a robotic kitchen that cooks the complete meal for customers. The entire experience at Spyce requires customers to be constantly interacting with technology.  The founders paired up with Michelin-starred chef Daniel Boulud to create a high-quality nutritious menu, consisting of seven bowl options, offering grain, chicken and veggie bowls (Spyce also offers vegetarian, vegan and gluten-free options). The kitchen at Spyce consists of a machine, loaded up with prepped ingredients, that measures out the correct amount of each ingredient for the order and dispenses it into a wok to be cooked. Orders are placed at an electronic kiosk on a touch screen that gives the initial seven options, which are customizable if the customer should choose to alter the ingredients. Then a screen displays your order while the machine begins working, grabbing the ingredients needed from the refrigerated chambers. The machine cooks by constantly tumbling around the ingredients, providing a nice and even sear, while simultaneously mixing the ingredients. Heated with induction and monitored by temperature control, each meal is guaranteed to be cooked perfectly. Then the machine self-cleans and begins the next order. All orders are made in three minutes or less.

Click here to see Spyce’s machine in action

spyce-robot-restaurant-fi

Although the machines are autonomous, there are some human employees at Spyce. Off-site there are employees who wash, cut and prep the ingredients beforehand so everything is ready to go when a customer orders. On-site there are employees who load the ingredients into the machine and place the toppings requested by the customer on the bowl (yogurt, herbs, ect). There are also workers who monitor and help the customers with questions while ordering.

Although the employees at Spyce are needed for things the machine cannot do, like the final step of adding the topping, I also feel as though the employees are there to ease the transition of a technology-based eatery into society. This being one of the first, the founders had no idea how people would react to such a strange and unfamiliar system, it would be uneasy for many to order, pay and receive their meal without any human interaction. Will there one day be a restaurant with no human employees, with everything automated leaving no need for hiring humans?

spyce-1-1100x733

The machine allows the restaurant to fit into a smaller location, saving money on rent and production costs, and due to the reduced labor costs and efficiency of the machine Spyce is able to price their bowls starting at $7.50. Achieving the original goal of the company, to provide good-quality nutritious food at a reasonable price point that is affordable to people at all income levels, while also giving the restaurant a competitive advantage since their price is set lower than bowls served at other restaurants.

Spyce opened its first and currently only location, in Downtown Crossing, in May of 2018. It was named one of Forbes’ 30 under 30 for 2019, stating that it has secured $24.8 million dollars in funding. With $21 million of that funded in September 2018 through the venture capital firms: Maveron, Collaborative Fund, and Khosla Ventures.The co-founders have said they plan to use the funding to open up new locations expanding along the east coast and improve the technology to become more efficient.

What does this mean for the future of restaurants? As one of the world’s first restaurants that uses technology to fully cook the meals of customers, Spyce has the ability to change the food industry. The founders have stated that their goal is not to replace human chefs but to help them work faster and increase efficiency. With the estimate trajectory, according to McKinsey Global Institute, that 400 to 800 million jobs will be automated by 2030 due to the advances in robotics, I can only wonder if this technology, although not the original purpose, will begin taking over the jobs of employees at fast-casual restaurants.

There are many pros to having a completed automated system in the food service industry; it would eliminate the possibility of an E.Coli outbreak caused by unknowingly sick employees, human error would no longer slow down the efficiency, and assuming the technology works correctly each order would be made perfectly eliminating the waste created when an order is wrong. But are people ready to rely solely on technology to prepare their food?

Spyce may have been one of the first restaurants to cook meals completely through a machine but many similar technologies have emerged recently. In 2017, the California based startup Miso Robotics introduced a machine named ‘Flippy’, an automated fast-food burger flipper, that operates at a speed twice as fast as humans. This machine is used at various CaliBurger restaurants, although it is still only considered a ‘kitchen assistant’ and cannot complete the entire order on its own. In June, just one month after Spyce opened in Boston, a burger restaurant named Creator opened in San Francisco with an automated burger machine (pictured below) that produces burgers costing only $6 for customers. The machine is an all-inclusive burger-making device that accomplishes each step of the burger making process. Creator, similar to Spyce, still includes human employees in the restaurant to take orders, make the sauce and answer customers questions.  And about 2 years ago Cafe X, a wireless coffee kiosk with a six-axis robotic arm catered to serve coffee, opened up in San Francisco.

The food industry has seen many technological advances in the recent years, but could automated machines be the future for restaurants across various types of food?

10 thoughts on “Are Robotic Devices the Future of the Food Industry?

  1. Nice post! One of my students was able to be at the opening of the first Spyce, so I’ve been following it for a while. My gut reaction is that the automation isn’t quite there yet to be more than a novelty, but you have to start somewhere (and I’ve certainly been wrong in the past).

    Like

  2. Love this Katie! I’m curious to think how this technique of automation could be applied to other fast-casual models, frozen yogurt maybe? In your research, were you able to see how the restaurant has done in terms of revenue and profits since opening?
    Maybe we should take a class field trip to judge the quality of the bowls!

    Like

  3. Great post Katie! I went to Spyce last semester with Professor Gallaugher and some other students and it was amazing! It was so cool to see the robots prepare the food. And the food was delicious! We were also able to meet with Brady Knight . We talked about the process to build these robots and the concern of food allergies was brought up. Brady Knight explained that there is an option to note food allergies, but that is also an area they need to improve. I am curious to see if they expand in the future!

    Like

  4. Very interesting post! It’s really hard for me to imagine a restaurant where humans are only needed for small tasks. It makes me wonder how technology like this could be applied in the future to a more traditional sit down style restaurant. Will the back of the house become automated or possibly even the whole experience? I feel society is a ways off from that, but it will be interesting to see!

    Like

  5. This is a super cool post–especially because it’s right here in Boston! (Field trip?) To me, this is a prime example of the benefits that technology can bring, which is much needed in the food industry in the US. Being able to purchase quick, healthy meal is not new. But to purchase one that is this inexpensive is exciting and hopeful for the many people who may not have the resources to provide for their families with full, fast, healthy meals otherwise. Technology is literally serving equal opportunity. Great stuff!

    Like

  6. Great post! This is so interesting to me because I know I’ve found in my personal experience that most healthy, vegan or vegetarian options in Boston tend to be more expensive than fast food is. I also worked over the summer in St. Francis House by Boylston, and realized that access to healthy food is a health concern for homeless people, as well as access to shelter or water or clean clothing. I wonder what role restaurants like this could play in remedying food deserts?

    Like

  7. Awesome spot Katie! This is so interesting to read about since it is in Boston and was created by college students just like us. As robotics and AI continue to take over different parts of society, it is increasingly intriguing to see it being integrated into food service. It makes me wonder if there will ever be a fully automated restaurant that needs no employees at all, however at that point, while it is easy and mechanical, it does partially take away from the interaction of food service and takes those jobs away as well. Nonetheless, I think the idea of having automated kitchen assistants or equipment is highly beneficial to efficiency in the food service industry.

    Like

  8. Great post! I think that this type of automation is definitely something that can succeed in niche markets, but overall I believe that a transformation of the whole food industry seems unlikely. This could be great for fast-food and fast casual, but for higher end restaurants, I believe customers have a fondness for eating foods that have been cooked by chefs who have a craft and passion for what they do. It will be interesting though to see how this trend develops over time.

    Like

  9. Katie, this was a great post! I am already trying to think of who I can get to join me on a trip to Spyce. I think this is a phenomenal example of the ongoing integration into different aspects of our society. You make a great point about the use of humans in the restaurant being partially about making people feel more comfortable in the restaurant. I can definitely see more of these types of restaurants opening in the near future, though I wonder how long it will take for this technology to expand into a wider range of food categories.

    Like

Leave a Reply

Please log in using one of these methods to post your comment:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s