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  • Writer's pictureDanielle van Hout

Eye on AI - September 30th, 2022

Welcome to Aigora's "Eye on AI" series, where we round up exciting news at the intersection of consumer science and artificial intelligence!


Our attention returns to autonomous fast food this week as we look into a new deep-frier-focused robot that saves restaurants up to 75% on the typical human worker and autonomous vehicle company Nuro’s partnership with Uber.


Fast Food Robot Performs Human Tasks at Half the Cost

The release of the latest autonomous fast food robot comes with big implications. According to the article “Robot Fast Food Cook Costs Less Than Half A Human Worker,” The Wingman, created by Nala Robotics, can perform many tasks of the typical fast food worker at under half the cost, making it an especially appealing alternative to human workers (video in the link above).

“Wingman can cook multiple different foods at the same time and season them individually,” writes Forbes contributor John Koetsier. “It can take foods out of a frozen storage and dispensing area, deep fry them, season them, and plate them ready to serve. Wingman can also bread chicken, toss fries, and add dry rub to wings.”

The Wingman’s functionality expands on applications such as Flippy, the autonomous burger chef we covered in a recent Eye on AI, in that it is primarily focused on deep frying. Using AI and high-performance camera and vision systems, it preps, cooks, and plates products such as chicken wings, french fries, nuggets, etc. It’s self-cleaning. And it could save fast food locations up to 75% on labor costs.

“With the ongoing labor shortage… many fast food restaurants who are struggling to retain workers find that they’re having to pay $15/hour,” continues Koetsier. “And a new law signed by California governor Gavin Newsom this month will push some fast food workers’ salaries up to $22/hour. At [that rate] Wingman will save employers 75% on wages…”

Robots will continue to improve while minimum wages rise, inflation worsens, and worker shortages continue, making robots a highly appealing alternative to humans on many fast food tasks. As of May 2021, there were over three million “fast food and counter” workers in the U.S., according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Should things continue as they are (all signs suggest that they will), we may see a massive job loss in the service industry.

“In late 2020, Miso Robotics cofounder Buck Jordan said… ‘Around year five or seven, you’re going to start seeing a lot… or all new-build kitchens being completely reinvented, fully autonomous, no humans in the back of house, 25% the square footage, probably fits in a shipping container, completely changing the entire industry and potentially disrupting the franchise model,’” continues Koetsier. “That’s now just three to five years away.”

Does Uber’s Partnership with Nuro Hint at Things to Come?

Speaking of potential job loss, Nuro, the company that produces street-legal robots for food deliveries, recently partnered with delivery service Uber Eats for use in Houston and Mountain View in a move that could mark a critical shift in the delivery service industry.

“People using the UberEats app in Houston and Mountain View, California… will be able to order deliveries using the new autonomous service this fall, with plans to expand the program… in the months ahead,” writes Forbes contributor Alan Ohnsman. “The vehicles alert people when they arrive, at which point the customer inputs a code to open the compartment containing their order.”

We’ve had our eye on Nuro since its early partnership with Dominos in 2019, covering its partnership with Chipotle in late 2021 in this series. To date, Nuro has partnered with some of the largest brands in the delivery, retail, and fast food spaces, including FedEx, Walmart, CVS, Kroger, and others. What makes Uber Eats unique is that it’s Nuro’s first partnership with a delivery-specific service.

There’s been a delivery war happening since the pandemic between the largest food delivery providers. Uber Eats, among the newer additions to the space, has taken up significant market share since entering the market. This move should bolster its position, as autonomous vehicles will lower worker acquisition costs while increasing delivery efficiencies. It’s a smart move in a competitive market, one that will likely be emulated by other delivery service providers in the months to come. Watch this space.

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