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Chipotle’s chip-producing robot makes more per month than a human employee

Chippy will, you guessed it, make the chips.

chipotle chippy robot
Image: Miso Robotics

We’re facing a crisis in the United States at the moment. While we have record unemployment lows, inflation is at its highest point in a long time.

Wages have not kept up with the rising costs of goods, rent is out of control, and we’re still fighting for a living wage. So it makes perfect sense that a major restaurant chain would be seeking to augment its workforce with a robot that makes chips.

Chipotle has partnered with Miso Robotics to create “Chippy.” It’s an AI-enabled robot that will learn the recipe for chips, and season them appropriately. You may remember Miso Robotics’ Flippy robotic fryer that was being tested at Buffalo Wild Wings or a version of it being implemented at White Castle.

In both cases, the robot isn’t there to take jobs. Instead, they are there to give employees more time for customer service by taking over the repetitive tasks.

There is a monetary cost to putting robotics in the kitchen, however

chipotle worker with chippy robot
Image: Miso Robotics

The upkeep of a single Chippy will cost Chipotle roughly $3,000 a month, which is much more than most burrito-stuffing workers take home.

While the chips (and salsa) are probably the best thing about Chipotle, it seems counter-intuitive to pay a robot to produce them when a human costs half as much. Or, conversely, pay humans as much as the damn robot.

That’s the solution to the “now hiring” signs found in almost every business around the country. Especially fast food businesses. Pay a higher wage, attract workers. Instead, companies like Chipotle are investing in robotics.

Aside from Chippy, Chipotle has invested in an autonomous delivery vehicle company and uses AI for its website and app chatbot. It is also looking at other things in the kitchen, such as dishwashing, that could be automated.

Chipotle is focusing on automation, not worker compensation. That’s why Chippy exists.

It’s not all doom and gloom

To be fair, Chipotle is one of the better-paying companies in the fast food realm. Chipotle wanted to better predict when restaurants would run out of chips. That somehow led to a robot making the chips, as long as it could memorize the seasoning recipe.

There’s a general fear as we move forward into the future of robotics that “robots are gonna take our jerbs.”

That might hold true in some industries where robotics just offer a more efficient production value. In Chipotle restaurants, however, the hope is that Chippy will simply give employees time to do other things instead of sitting around seasoning chips.

This especially holds true during peak hours, when it’s hard to leave the customer line to make more chips.

“I think we remain in a really strong place as it relates to labor,” Chipotle CTO Curt Garner told CNBC. “We didn’t approach this from a lens of trying to solve for a labor problem. We approached it from a lens of what would make it easier, more fun, more rewarding, and how do we take away some of the tasks that team members don’t like and give them more time to focus on the tasks that they do?”

In perspective, robotics with the purpose of augmenting human labor rather than replacing it is a smart path for businesses like Chipotle.

We’ve all been in line, watching employees rush around. That’s because, aside from customer service, there is a litany of mundane tasks to be performed. Making chips is one of them. Washing dishes is another. If Chipotle wants to solve that by dropping coin on a chip-making robot, so be it.

In a cynical reality, it’s only a matter of time before robots are rolling our burritos after they get done with a batch of perfectly seasoned chips. In our actual reality, some kid has once again put too much stuff inside my burrito. There is no reality in which I eat a burrito with a fork.

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Back at it. Writing tech news/opinion so Josiah doesn't slap me (or so he will, depends on the day). Follow on Twitter @cebsilver for them jokes. Chaotic neutral.

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