Firth’s Tech: Flippy the automated robot is already taking American jobs

David Firth

Flippy is already taking American jobs. The first commercial burger-flipping robot was rolled out (really, it’s on wheels – it got wheeled into place) this month at a California burger joint.

The robot was at least designed and built in America, so what we’re seeing here is what is actually happening all across America: low or no-skill American jobs are being replaced by high-end, high-tech American jobs.

Flippy has it all: OSHA-compliant laser sensors to allow the human staff to collaborate with Flippy safely. 3D and thermal scanners for eyes which are connected via the internet to the Artificial Intelligence brain from the company that makes Flippy. Flippy is even integrated with the point of sale unit, which means you don’t get that “three patties” shout like you do at Five Guys from the person taking your order back to the cook.

It’ll make “150-300 burgers per hour (depending on kitchen staff).” That’s one every 12 seconds at the top end, although it is not clear what the kitchen staff have to do or not do to make this happen. Apparently, it has “100,000 hours continuous uptime,” which is 48 years of a 40-hour regular work week, or 11 straight years of making burgers 24×7.

How much, you ask, for this modern marvel? $60,000. That’s just 60 cents an hour, which is a long way below Montana’s $8.30 minimum wage.

It’s not just flipping burgers that is being automated. There’s an automatic fry-making machine which means far fewer issues with hot fat splattering employees hands. And there are now kiosks where customers can place their orders using touchscreens and pay by smartphone or credit card. Round this all out with automated drinks machines and you have a completely automated kitchen without employees, right?

No, according to McDonald’s and Burger King. All those staff who were taking orders, making fries, flipping burgers and pouring drinks will be in delivery jobs: both “in-café” and “driver.” That’s right, once the food ordering and making process has been totally automated people will still be needed to serve or deliver the food.

Which is great, except Dominoes has already being trying out completely automated pizza delivery in Ann Arbor, Michigan using specially adapted Ford self-driving cars that include a pizza-warming oven. The car pings you when it arrives, and you use a link sent to your smartphone to open the self-driving pizza-delivery car door and retrieve your pizza.

At least the cars are designed and made in America, but this is just another example of how low or no-skill American jobs are being replaced by high-end high-tech American jobs.

David Firth is a professor of management information systems in the College of Business at the University of Montana and a faculty fellow with Advanced Technology Group in Missoula.