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SpongeBob Has Nothing on Flippy the Burger Bot

Flippy, a robot designed to, as its name suggests, flip things, was fired from its entry-level burger joint job after just one day on the case at California-based burger chain CaliBurger.

Armed only with a spatula, the robot was a paragon of productivity, managing to cook (and flip) 2000 burgers in a day. That’s a feat perhaps rivaled only by SpongeBob’s skills over at the Krusty Krab – and therein lies the problem: its human co-workers couldn’t keep pace.

As Anthony Lomelino, head of technology at CaliBurger, pointed out, Flippy can’t exist in a vacuum: at CaliBurger, humans still sell the food and take your money; they also add condiments and veggies to the burgers, wrap them up in paper and put them in a bag for visitors. The rest of the food delivery chain lagged behind Flippy’s prowess, so Flippy, unfortunately, had to go. For now.

“Mostly it’s the timing,” Lomelino told USA Today. “When you’re in the back, working with people, you talk to each other. With Flippy, you kind of need to work around his schedule. Choreographing the movements of what you do, when and how you do it.”

Perhaps the solution is designing additional robots (hopefully dubbed things like 'Lettuce Luke' or 'Condiment Cathy') to fill out the hamburger production chain. Conceivably, an AI could even replace a human manager, optimizing and overseeing the coordination between machines. It’s not too far from reality: At the Philadelphia airport, for example, visitors to in-terminal restaurants may find themselves forced to order their food and beverages via iPad – so the cashier part of this is already partially solved.

But would consumers go for it, after the novelty wears off? Aside from the ick factor of replacing entry-level jobs with machines, there are darker concerns.

Robotic restaurant workers recently made their way into the X-Files earlier in March, in a very Black Mirror-esque episode involving Agents Mulder and Scully being terrorized by robotic helpers, drones and even the digital apps they’ve opted into. They find themselves in this dystopian world after not tipping at an all-robot sushi restaurant; the implication of course is that AI is controlling a vast, self-aware lattice of Things – and that it gets really, really offended when stiffed on the gratuity.

CaliBurger at least has no concern for such things. The company has contracted for Flippies to be installed in 50 locations, and even though Flippy was just too good in the trial, the chain said it’s looking to work out the process kinks in order to stay on track to deploy the $60,000 units by the end of the year.

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