Restaurant industry ‘overdue for the automation party’, says Miso Robotics CEO

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Mike Bell, CEO of Miso Robotics, joins Yahoo Finance Live to discuss partnering with restaurant chains like Chipotle and the outlook for automation in the restaurant industry.

Video transcript

BRIAN SOZZI: Happy to see you again. Robots in the workforce happen, people. You might have heard of White Castle’s burger flipping AI Flippy. Well, we now – after a few months of testing, Chipotle is about to roll out its own mechanical friend with chip-making robot, Chippy.

To learn more about Chippy, Flippy and Zippy, and what it means for the future of the restaurant industry, let’s welcome Mike Bell, CEO of Miso Robotics. Mike, good to see you. I’m just waiting for a robot behind you to wave at me. Maybe we’ll save that later for that big finish. But listen, are we approaching the day I’m going to walk into a Chipotle, and a robot is just going to make me a burrito?

MIKE BEL: Well, Brian, we’re approaching the day when a robot is going to do more and more of that part of making a burrito. Our view is that there are a whole bunch of tasks that are back in the house that are just better suited to automation. Dealing with human beings is not one of them. We believe that humans deal better with other humans. We don’t envision a restaurant without humans, but we look at restaurants and think there are a lot of tasks that are mundane, repetitive, and just better suited for today’s robotic technology.

Brad Smith: So that’s what we hear all the time, it’s shifting tasks, instead of shifting jobs. But the reality of that, where will we see other employment opportunities that will eventually arise for humans as a result of robots taking over some of these more mundane tasks, if you will?

MIKE BEL: Well, the robotics industry itself attracts people from all industries because it is growing at such a rapid pace. And there just aren’t many robotics experts out there looking for a job. So what happens is we attract examples of people from other industries to be robot installation specialists or robot trainers or computer vision experts, both engineers and non-engineers. And so we are seeing real change – what we will see going forward is real change in the workforce and just more tech jobs that are being created by industries like ours.

JULIE HYMAN: Mike, it’s interesting because I feel like the food industry is a bit…the restaurant industry is a bit behind the cycle of robotics. I mean, if you look at manufacturing, for example, robotics has been around for a very long time. What created this kind of tipping point here? Is it greater public acceptance of these technologies? Is it a further development of these technologies? What is changing?

MIKE BEL: Julia, you are right. The restaurant industry is late to the automation party. When you look at other industries, the ones you mentioned, they’re maybe a decade ahead of the restaurant industry in the automation adoption cycle. And so there are a lot of reasons for that, a lot of them have to do with the different environments that exist in a restaurant. There are a whole host of reasons for this.

But when you step back and look at the restaurant industry, it could be considered the largest distributed factory base in the country. I mean, right here, as we speak, there’s about a quarter of a million human beings moving fries through a frying station from left to right. And they will do it all day and come back tomorrow.

And so the restaurant industry has been a very late adopter of a whole bunch of technology. We are here to change that. And the technology suddenly became accessible, affordable, easy to install and extremely reliable. We’re building a robot that’s supposed to be as reliable and easy to use as a dishwasher or fridge etc. And so the day is upon us.

BRIAN SOZZI: Mike, why the big fast food, why did they come so late? To me, that makes all kinds of sense. Yet, I don’t hear a McDonald’s, I don’t hear a restaurant brand really talk about implementing this type of robotics. Do you have conversations with them?

MIKE BEL: Yes, we are in conversation with all major brands. They are all in the restaurant business. They’re all watching us, watch what we’re doing, and we have active testing, late-stage testing with many brands. The reasons why they’re late to market or late to adopting this type of technology, there’s just a complex set of reasons. But they got the memo, let’s put it that way.

One could argue that this industry is even more in need of a labor solution than other industries. The labor shortage in the restaurant industry exceeds one million people. There are just vacancies that they cannot fill. And when they fill them, they have a hard time retaining people for those jobs.

So the demand for our solution is, in the restaurant industry, I would say, it exceeds the other industries that we’ve mentioned. And despite the restaurant industry being a little late to the party, the solution is here and now. We are moving quickly. I can’t move fast enough. There’s just…the demand is pretty incredible. But we are here to solve the problem with them.

Brad Smith: You know, it’s interesting because we also understand that you’re trying to make these robots work more like humans, so much so that you kind of introduce a margin of error, if you will, even in the type of chip , the perfection of the chip that is created. Why can’t all chips be perfect, Mike?

MIKE BEL: Yeah, well, they can be. I think the nature of Chipotle tokens, Brad, is that they’re meant to be uneven. And they have an artisan element to the way they are created. You may have had the fries and noticed that some of them have a more concentrated area of ​​seasoning and some don’t. They don’t taste like a bag of chips you buy at the grocery store. It’s intentional. And a robot can absolutely imitate that and do it as well as a human being.

Brad Smith: Mike, thank you. I’m looking for that perfect chip, quite honestly here. Mike Bell, CEO of Miso Robotics, we appreciate your time here today.

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Cecil N. Messick