One of the first investments from Chipotle Mexican Grill Inc.’s venture fund Cultivate Next is in Hyphen, a San Jose, Calif.-based robotics company whose product, The Makeline, organizes digital orders for greater efficiency. “Their use of robotics to enhance the employee and guest experience to find efficiencies in the restaurant industry aligns with our mission of leveraging emerging technology to increase access to real food,” said Curt Garner, chief technology officer at Chipotle
in a statement.
See: ‘It’s like being ripped into two’: Chipotle workers overwhelmed by online orders and furious customers
Hyphen’s signature item, the Makeline. Courtesy of Chipotle
Prior to the investment, Chipotle brought in Chippy, a Miso Robotics creation, to test that robot’s abilities at the station that makes tortilla chips. Miso Robotics, a Pasadena, Calif.-based restaurant robotics company founded in 2016, is helping quick-service chains create the kitchens of the future using artificial intelligence, robotics, computer vision, and other high-tech methods. The quest to improve service and operations at a wide range of restaurant companies has taken on increased urgency as labor shortages, inflation and other broad challenges add to the cost of doing business. More and more, human workers are sharing space in the kitchen with robots and other machinery. Jack in the Box
has also been testing technology from Miso Robotics: Flippy 2 uses a robotic arm to operate a fryer that can make items like french fries and chicken wings; and Sippy, an automated beverage dispenser that promises the perfect amount of ice and an airtight seal to prevent spills and keep carbonated drinks from going flat. White Castle and Del Taco are a couple of the other chains that have given Miso’s technology a try. “What are the biggest problems that are easiest to solve? The fry station was looming large as the first and the biggest,” said Mike Bell, chief executive of Miso Robotics in an interview with MarketWatch. “It’s hard to recruit, hard to retain, and the least favorite job back of house.” According to Bell, there’s plenty more that technology and engineering could do with robotics in quick-serve kitchens. But money is a factor. “There are things that can be taken over by automation but not all make business sense,” Bell said. The Flippy 2 starts at $3,000 per month to lease, with companies typically signing on for five-year terms. Miso Robotics is currently working with more than 10,000 restaurant locations. Mark Kalinowski, chief executive of Kalinowski Equity Research, calls it “early innings” for restaurant automation. Fast-food chains can have thousands of locations, many of them franchised, which can make the price tag for adding hi-tech solutions out of reach for many operators, especially when considering the other costs of doing business. “Right now a lot of automation technologies are expensive or unproven,” he said. And there’s the issue of scale. Many big chains have thousands of restaurants. “If you want something in 5,000 restaur …