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White Castle hands the spatula to Flippy, the robot that can grill up a contact-free burger

By Benjamin Bullard
Flippy kitchen robot grilling hamburgers

We don’t know if White Castle’s new kitchen robot worker will look as cute behind the counter as his burger-flipping name, but we do know that Flippy the line cook will be manning the griddle at at least one location in the grab-’n’-go franchise’s network of U.S. restaurants — and corporate eyes will be closely watching to see if Flippy’s mechanical moves have what it takes to make the team.

In an early instance of a U.S. fast food business testing the scalability of bringing a robot into the kitchen, the midwestern chain of Harold & Kumar fame is reportedly partnering with California-based Miso Robotics to put the tech company’s Flippy robot behind the counter in order to see if a wider robot rollout makes sense.

Rather than fulfilling the fear that robots will one day take over all the jobs that people do, the test isn’t so much about job replacement as it is about putting fewer human hands on your food as possible. With the COVID-19 pandemic already putting people on higher guard whenever they come in contact with others, customer concerns over public health could be assuaged by having smart machinery do the work instead.

Miso Robotics - Meet Flippy

“[W]e’re not looking at this as a way to reduce people power,” Jamie Richardson, White Castle’s VP of shareholder relations, told TechCrunch, adding that robotics could save the company money in food costs, thanks to greater efficiency and reduced waste. “…There were things that we thought, COVID or no COVID were important. This project falls under that banner.”

How does Flippy work? By sailing to and fro across the griddle line, mounted on a rail. Flippy is essentially one giant mobile arm equipped with a dexterous, AI-powered hand, and Miso — which has previously deployed the robot at a handful of venues including Dodger Stadium — says it’s capable of switching kitchen tools automatically, can learn on the fly, and “works collaboratively with the kitchen staff.” While the robotics company touts (and has tested) Flippy’s ability to operate deep fryers as well as cooktops, White Castle reportedly won’t task their test ‘bot with both chores: for now, Flippy will strictly be on burger patrol.

An earlier model was reportedly pulled from a Los Angeles burger joint for being too slow, but White Castle is getting an updated model called Flippy ROAR, according to USA Today. ROAR stands for “robot on a rail,” which pretty much sums up Flippy’s lonely life in the kitchen — even after the lights switch off for the day and everyone else has gone home.

Watch for Flippy to put on its robot cooking show at a Chicago-area White Castle location (via TechCrunch) sometime this fall, with plans to multiply to other restaurants if the burger powers that be are sufficiently pleased with the made-to-order results.