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Is This the Future of Burger Flipping?

Automation has already claimed a lot of jobs and may soon claim more, especially in the foodservice industry. Already, some eateries are experimenting with self-order systems that reduce or eliminate the need for human servers even in table service establishments. But people still have to do the cooking, right? Well, not necessarily.

Meet the Alpha Machine, from a company called Momentum Machines. According to a story on the Singularity Hub website I noticed recently, the Alpha is able to cook up a tasty burger with all the fixins' with no human interaction. Its conveyor belt system freshly grinds the meat, shapes it, grills it to the customer's preference and then freshly slices the tomatoes, onions, etc., for the customized topping combo. Alpha can turn out 360 burgers an hour, takes no sick time, doesn't need a break, is impossible to sexually harass (well, practically impossible…) and is not affected by the Affordable Care Act. Nor minimum wage legislation or OSHA work rules.

I expect a lot more Alphas and Alpha cousins and siblings in the near future as labor costs escalate and regulations governing employee relations multiply. Automation has already made some jobs like travel agent and bank teller nearly obsolete. Factory automation means far fewer workers are needed to assemble ever more complex products. What has saved jobs like burger flipper so far is the low cost of the labor and the cost and hassle or buying and deploying automation. But nothing is forever.

I expect to see the first chain concepts utilizing these types of machines entering the market in the near future. Yes, there will be startup issues and learning curves but they will soon get those ironed out and at that point the cost curve will be bent downwards, forcing traditional operators to adapt. That's doubly true because, as Singularity Hub notes, the labor savings will allow an operator to upgrade in other areas such as ingredient quality, offering further competitive advantage.

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