Robots Are Coming: Higher Minimum Wage, Labor Shortages Accelerate Automation


At first, it was just Flippy the Burgerbot, the one-armed automated burger-pinball machine that proved to be faster than humans at fifteen bucks an hour with two fully functional arms. How about fries with that? “It happens,” says Miso Robotics, which manufactures the cyborg workers for White Castle and other hamburger restaurant chains. Flippy has been promoted to cook. The $30,000 machine can now dunk baskets of frozen fries in boiling fat, then remove and shake them, ready to serve the golden treats to customers.

The robotics revolution does not stop there. Now Chipotle, the national burrito chain, is testing its own Miso Robotics employee: Chippy the Tortilla Bot. The skill set is nearly identical to Flippy the Fry Cook’s, so adapting the droid for Chipotle wasn’t terribly difficult.

And with minimum wage rising across the country and restaurant owners still struggling to hire and train staff, robots are still showing up on time, working faster and making fewer mistakes, and are starting to become more popular. more and more attractive.

Restaurants aren’t the only businesses getting in on the act. In Florida, strawberry growers will soon use Barry the Berry Bot to complement and eventually replace humans. In fact, several companies are working to perfect their own versions of “Barry,” including a local Florida company that’s field-testing its eighth iteration of an automated strawberry picker. Meanwhile, other companies have their own versions. Many farmers won’t even need to buy a robot. They will simply hire the robot harvesters to show up and pick their crops.

Like the labor shortage in restaurants, farms are also starting to notice a trend. According to data from the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), the average age of migrant workers and farm workers in general is increasing as fewer young people enter the agricultural workforce. For strawberry-rich Florida, that means farmers will have to get creative if they want to keep the cost of strawberries low enough to remain a regular staple in the American diet. If the price becomes too high, strawberries become a luxury product and households find a way to do without them.

The revolution is not about to stop. Robots are not only working on farms or in restaurant kitchens, they are already moving around in the dining room as well. They’re slowly taking over mundane security tasks, and while some say they’re not replacing humans, they probably soon will be.

The US economy is constantly changing, and the robotic displacement of human workers has been happening for decades. The real change in recent years is that robotic skill sets are developing at such a rapid rate that they are increasingly capable of disrupting the human workforce in ways previously unimaginable.

Michael A. Bynum