Just face it - you're automating a job. If your company succeeds, more people will become unemployed. That's not to say you shouldn't do it, but call it what it is and take responsibility.
To be fair, the whole quote (in the article, not the video) is: “We’re playing around with education programs for the staff. Five percent of the time they’re paid just to read. We’re already doing that. There’s a book budget. We’re paying $16 an hour. As opportunities come up to fix the machine, there’s a path we’re going to offer people as repair or maintenance people to get paid even more.”
That is quite different from "when I make these people redundant, they will have time to read".
I agree that the founder should be more straightforward. But take responsibility for what? As a business you don't have any moral or legal requirements to employ x people.
Getting rid of this menial jobs will push people to look to do other stuff. It's good for them and for the society. Flipping burgers like a machine all day long is not healthy.
Everytime there are stories on burgers why do so many feel it is ok to run down people who are working and attempt to debase and dehumanize them. Is it some kind of perverse pleasure in running down others?
Why should a random commentator decide what is worthwhile for other people to do, what people should earn or what is the value of their job. Why is it more worthwhile to write html code, do hft trades in office or peddle surveillance and spyware all your life? How come no one else is running them down.
This is no place for such debased comments on other human beings in civilized discourse and the mods here usually on top of things should consider the impact of perpetuating this kind of gratuitous disparagement on entire groups of people.
But the founder, Vardakostas, is a person- not a business. A person ccan always consider the morality of the likely outcome of their decisions.
And of course advantages for the restaurant owner, but also a bit for the employees : more space, generally. The whole kitchen seems to be the size of a small car. That's pretty good.
"Each month, highly trained and experienced Census Bureau employees contact the 60,000 eligible sample households and ask about the labor force activities (jobholding and job seeking) or non-labor force status of the members of these households during the survey reference week (usually the week that includes the 12th of the month). These are live interviews conducted either in person or over the phone. "
It might be a better indicator of "how well is the economy serving the needs of the people", depending on what you value.
Of course much of that drop is also demographics; the baby boomers are starting to retire en masse.
Still, the illusion of job abundance does not hold.
In fact the unemployment rate is low because the economy has produced an extraordinarily vast number of jobs. In May alone the US economy nearly produced a million new full-time jobs (solidly contracting the part-time count). The full-time job count is at an all-time record high. The US economy has produced 14 million full-time jobs in just the last six years.  And the median full-time income in the US is about $50,000, among the highest on earth.
> notice the record numbers of homeless on the streets?
The US homeless rate per capita has plunged dramatically and is at an all-time record low.  You're entirely fabricating your claims, both about jobs and homelessness.
The total homeless count has declined by roughly 27% in just 13 years. From ~760,000 in 2005, to less than 550,000 for 2018. The US added about 10% to its population over that time simultaneously.
How is that possible? Everyone knows the US sucks and has no safety net or support systems. Except, that's a lie. The US welfare state is now more generous than either the Canadian or Australian welfare states. 
About the last part of your statement though: society has already implicitly accepted the crappy minimum living standards (at least in the US) that it's willing to accept. That doesn't make it right for the people stuck having to live according to that minimum.
Like c'mon. Working for less than a livable wage is just called making America worse. It would be much more productive to kill yourself and reduce the leverage employers have over the proletariat.
Pretty much almost all (time) gains from automation get immediately filled with non-automated tasks instead of giving you endless free time.
Otherwise at this point in time in history no one would need to work. But we keep coming up with more stuff to do and fill up our time.
The "think of the employees" argument only works when there isn't an employee-friendly market.
Actually it is. People need to be occupied/busy. It's such a big need that keeping meaningless jobs around is also a huge political tool used for thousands of years (there was an article that made the front page of HN a few days ago exactly about this topic, pretty fascinating). I would agree it might not be the best way of caring about people though.
In any case, my comment referred to the sentiment of the previous poster's comment, which seems to be similar to yours...
> With unemployment numbers so slow, finding another menial job shouldn't be that difficult.
These people are just a statistic to you and you think because "the numbers add up", they'll be fine.
> The "think of the employees" argument only works when there isn't an employee-friendly market.
It's hardly an employee-friendly market when thousands of people with a full time job can't afford housing because their jobs don't pay enough, but they also can't afford to loose their jobs. Seems more like slavery than a job market.
As for blacksmithing, yeah, the artisanship side of that would be cool. However, considering you have no skill, you'd probably spend six months making horse shoes. If that seems like fun to you, well, you still probably couldn't get that work, because there's just not very much demand for blacksmiths these days. :)
Blacksmiths don't make horseshoes either, that's a farrier's job (who still buy them off the shelf and finish them by hand). Being a farrier is also not an easy job, take a 3 or 4 apprenticeship to become one. There seems to be this viewpoint I see a lot on Hacker News that blue collar jobs are unskilled jobs. Most skilled trades require a 3 or 4 year apprenticeship, you can't just learn how to be a fitter and turner, or a carpenter, or a blacksmith/farrier in a couple of weekends. It's this kind of arrogant attitude that causes the tradies to have no respect for the book-learned engineers straight out of university that think because they have a degree they know how to build a road.
> ...I've done a stint in fast food.
He specifically mentioned a gourmet burger place.
> However, considering you have no skill, you'd probably spend six months making horse shoes.
If you're doing blacksmithing for a living, most likely you're a farrier. Demand for custom ironwork is very low.
The only farrier I know isn't a blacksmith. Actually I don't remember what her full time job is.
And the only person I've ever known who did custom ironwork was a software tester.
If working 12 hours a day, 6 days a week sounds like fun to you, then I'd totally recommend it.
You'd probably spend most of your day cutting potatoes and washing dishes though, rather than actually cooking burgers. And even if you did get to cooking, you'd be making the same half a dozen menu items day in, day out. You won't have any creative control, you're a production line worker.
It's not even close, which is why it is easy to keep burger flipping jobs find without high wages even when unemployment is relatively low.
> This has been said countless times, but it's worth noting that although there are very few blacksmiths or peat cutters today, somehow we are still pretty close to full employment.
Because “full employment” is a decreasing-over-time share of the population that is actually working (and an even smaller decreasing share actually self-sufficient from work, as a large portion of the working population is dependent on public aid.)
This isn't necessarily a bad thing, but it is a problem that people point to “near full employment” with advancing automation as an excuse to argue against the continued advance of social support structures necessary to make the declining share of the population working (and also the declining share self-sufficient from work) both nearly “full employment” and anywhere close to tolerate conditions.
We have folks living in tent cities.
12.8% is "on disability"
Yeah we're at full employment as long as you consider U6 rather than the old standard of U5.
Society shouldn't pretend these people don't exist but they're rightfully a different class of unemployed.
In any case, very few technologies (relative to everything that's created) actually make living standards better, mostly just things in healthcare. Almost everything else is pretty much a rats race fueled by business and profit, not by intentions of improving people's lives.
To make it a bit clearer...
Currently, humanity as a whole has the resources (materials, technology, etc), to provide good housing, education, food and healthcare for everyone on this planet. However, everyday we choose not to do that and do whatever else it is we do instead.
This is just an observation, not a moral judgement on anyone in particular. By the way, I'm personally not doing anything to change the current state of affairs, so I can't really point any fingers.
Hopefully the situation will change at some point.
Which percentage of society should be permanently alienated from ownership and engagement, and who decides?
And it's a valid point! If people really are choosing not to take jobs that are readily available, then automating those jobs is a net benefit.
Now, we should not ignore the fact that this is stated as a hypothetical! Are there a mass of unemployed who are choosing not to work? And would all of the people who lose their jobs due to burger flipping automation be able to find new jobs or be happy with no job?
Those seem like the more relevant questions.
June, 2018: "Disability Applications Plunge as the Economy Strengthens"
"The number of Americans seeking Social Security disability benefits is plunging, a startling reversal of a decades-old trend that threatened the program’s solvency. It is the latest evidence of a stronger economy pulling people back into the job market or preventing workers from being sidelined in the first place."
U5 is at 4.6%... https://www.bls.gov/news.release/empsit.t15.htm
It is also, by definition, lower than U6.
Unless you plan on conscripting children, students, the disabled, stay-at-home parents, and the elderly into jobs (like Steve King), we're at the long run full employment rate.
The unemployment rate has been manipulated for various reasons and in various ways for years by politicians whos reputation is directly linked to the number. Again, fact, not a conspiracy.
A reasonable statement would note that the labor participation rate was at about 59% from 1950 to 1965, rose over several decades and peaked around 67% in the 90s as women entered the workforce in droves, fell 1% in the 00s and 3% following the recession. It would further be worth noting that the recent fall could be a result of a variety of factors - poor wage growth (might change the calculus of stay-at-home parenting), increasing numbers of young men that prefer to live with their parents and absorb themselves in entertainment rather than "getting ahead" (possibly also affected by the prior wage issue), or baby boomers retiring in increasing numbers, causing a bump in people moving out of the work force.
>The unemployment rate has been massaged and manipulated to the point where you need to stop citing it as a serious measurement of anything other than the scope to which otherwise intelligent people can be deluded.
>The unemployment rate has been manipulated for various reasons and in various ways for years by politicians whos reputation is directly linked to the number.
In any case, you might want to take a look at the 25-54 LFP. It currently sits at 82%, the same as the rate during the 2000s and two points shy of the all-time high during the height of the dot-com bubble. Prior to 1986 it had never reached this level.
"Some operators even say Uber is taking its toll. 'We have seen a number of our line cooks leave and say that they can make more money driving for Uber,' says Stacy Jed, co-owner of San Francisco’s Bluestem Brasserie. 'And if you think about it, the barrier to entry for Uber is much lower. All you have to do is know how to drive a car. And they can make more money and work less.'"
Don't you need to own a decent car too?
Imagine an employee at the burger place offering event planning services, not just catering. Or knowing that you have family coming in town next weekend for a baseball game and the gamw gets delayed and you're starving after the game, and the employee texts you "Hey, saw your game got delayed, hungry? I can have some burgers sent to the house for the whole family!"
It is automating a job, but I prefer to word it as reallocating resources to improve the experience.
Their demo unit is very fun, and adds to the gimmick, but like most industrial equipment ease of access is more important than appearances. I'd hate to have to take apart what they demoed for routine cleaning.
And while it is laudable that they're taking the savings and using them on better ingredients, that only lasts until a competitor appears who is going to just lower the price (e.g. "50c burgers here!").
I'm skeptical that this machine adds enough value to justify its costs for the aforementioned reasons, but also because of the decreased flexibility. Other fast food restaurants can introduce new dishes and flavors easily, but if they want to do the same they may need to modify the entire machine. For example, adding two patties instead of one, using differently shaped buns or meat, wraps instead of burgers.
In the real world, tomatoes come graded. You pay a lot more if you want them all exactly the same size. They need to be washed, and frequently have woody stems that need to be excised. I didn't see that happening automatically.
And onions don't come pre-peeled in restaurant quantities. The pickle tube is going to jam. The condiments might signal you when they're out, but the nozzles are going to need a good cleaning.
I wonder if they're planning on going Juicero and selling their franchisees preloaded tubes.
Clearly, the observation was, just make the cutting mechanism work like a deli slicer, as opposed to a knife or whatever else the OP had in mind.
Clearly the observation is that these robots are blades that dont need handles because they do everything a handle-using human does without requiring an actual handle. See what I'm getting at? You're telling them they should use a better handle when handles have nothing to do with the actual subject at hand.
The hard part is picking up the vegetables and moving them without damaging them, filtering out the product that went bad after QC at the farm, measuring how much force to apply to both ends to keep it from falling apart, keeping an eye on gunk and cleaning it before it becomes a mechanical problem or food safety hazard, and on and on. You know, the things that you need humans for, not deli slicers.
That's what the OP had in mind. Not what kind of kitchen utensil to use.
Seriously, go back and read the original post. It's all about how hard it is to cut various vegetables. Not the stuff you mentioned. Think you better calibrate, son.
Early on in the food making robot game it will move fast, new versions will come out all the time. Noone wants to eat at the place with last year's robots.
Early on, competing will be intense if the new versions also cut costs heavily. No restaurant that has gone automation will be able to survive if using too far outdated robots in the beginning at least, until it is refined after many iterations.
Humans are self-cleaning and maintain on their own time. Robots will be like any other kitchen equipment, probably very nasty unless there are humans there to clean them on the regular, good policies or really good self-cleaning technology.
Eventually there will be robot upgrading and maintaining third party services, but at that point are you really getting a difference across restaurants other than ingredients? Sometimes people like chefs cooking because it is unique and harder to replicate. We already get lots of food made by robots, they are frozen foods that aren't all that great compared to food made on the spot by real people.
Outside of places like San Francisco the few dozen square feet per machine isn't going to be a big deal.
On top of that it can produce multiple burgers at the same.
I assume the revenue per machine is potentially 5x of that (or more) which is $691200 per year.
Making money seems like the lowest priority item on the very long list of potential problems with this machine.
Cleaning and restocking? Those are still unsolved and might even be impossible. Making more money merely requires "revision 2: now 30% more efficient!" or just building more than one machine.
Of course there are other expenses such as maintenance, deployment, development and upgrades. But those are the things this company is likely trying to optimize.
I'm not sure that gives them much, though -- restaurants are pretty capital-intensive, and on those economics the marginal savings of not having burger-flippers doesn't add up to a lot of advantage. Maybe it would be better to sell your machines, to become "the Coca-Cola of burgers" rather than another McDonald's.
Established players don't want to develop these machines in-house, but if you provide clearly better value they can and they will catch up. They'd probably rather buy the technology, though.
If you want a more expensive burger, then buy the more expensive one. Of you want the cheaper one then buy that.
It's not "laudable". It is responding to the market and providing a different product.
If it manages to actually lower operating costs then it will lower prices in all the segments but it won't just get rid of segments
I wasn't calling engineers less clean. I was saying paying for repairs and maintenance from experts might offset the cost savings (relative to minimum wage, minimum qualified, employees) in the long run.
Self-checkout machines seem to work because the technology is simple enough to be reliable enough. In this case you have moving parts, sensors, and food particles on everything.
I get it, there is a long history of such robots failing economically.
However, automating food assembly could free a huge number of people from menial restaurant work.
Perhaps we would see an explosion of food culture and personalization that simply doesn't exist when you have several fast food chains operating tens of thousands of stores worldwide and the cost of opening up a unique restaurant is greater than many people's lifetime earnings.
I hope this problem is solved one day in my lifetime, and that we all benefit from lower food assembly costs and increased dietary options.
Simply put: if a job is so repetitive that it can be automated out of existence, it's in the interest of humanity overall that it should be.
Quite a different way of framing it than your original comment. Here you tout how it's good for "humanity" in general. Before you were touting how this is good for the people being put out of work.
You'd order a complicated dish and watch in amazement as the robots prepare it in front of you.
The founder cares about people's wellbeing, and seems to have a mission. He's been grinding this out for 8 years. It doesn't sound like the other automation food startups out there.
IMO I'd rather have spent less money at the neighboring Chipotle for better food.
It's like in the Kurt Vonnegut book Player Piano: there are certain services where people enjoy the human touch; I think food service is one of those.
I might care my first time going, but anytime after that, I just care about getting my food and eating it.
Also-- There's more than one company doing that?? Or just one with several locations
You could pretty much automate the sub construction process since the ingredient prep process is done at an industrial scale and just shipped in bags to each Subway location.
As a person who cooks, 50% of the time is spent cleaning up. I can see gunk, pieces of stuff, residue messing with the machine. A normal person notices and cleans each bit as they go, whereas a machine like this (unless engineered to clean itself) will be cleaned periodically (most likely after business hours). So my point is, I feel like food made by humans is still cleaner and safer.
Also what happens when something needs to be cleaned or replaced mid-lunch? You shut down the machine and open it up... the restaurant loses $. In a normal kitchen, you wipe things up, wash a knife, or grab a new one and keep going.
There's a reason most kitchens are full of stainless steel with smooth edges and nothing that can capture soil.
There's wood in this appliance.
Wood is often used in food prep; cutting boards, butcher blocks, stirrers, rollers and scoops/paddles are often made of wood. Wood surfaces have been shown to have anti-microbial properties that make them well suited for the use:
And as anyone who's worked fast food knows, the higher tech the food prep device, the more delicate it is. Cooking beef results in grease, which gets everywhere. You can put gaskets, physical barriers etc etc, and grease particles will coat everything. Then things will break down.
Add in robotic mandolines for the tomatos/onions, the necessary refrigeration of all the components and you've got something that won't be robust, reliable, or efficient.
Then there's tamper resistance. This thing will need to be hermetically sealed to keep people from doing the usual fsckery that happens in kiosks etc.
And the economics looks "challenging." From the article, it looks like it stocks 30 buns. 30 burgers at $6 is $180 in revenue before someone needs to restock it. And restock the beef. And make sure the artisanal beef deliveries are handled properly. Sounds like a prep cook... Then you'll need cashiers, and people to clean tables, and restrooms, and all the other accoutrements of restaurants.
Yeah, it looks cool, and people do like to see their food cooked. The novelty will attract people at first. Then the lines will deter them. Restaurants are all about volume. And at $6 a burger, you'll need to crank them out fast.
But to answer your question, no. I don't think they've addressed these obvious issues.
Then the parents decide to step away from the business. Their children take over the business, and want to put their stamp on it. Modernize it. They update the menu; redo the decor. Aim for a better clientele. Try to remove the difficult parts of the business with technology. And the business fails. Because they didn't understand the myriad small decisions that lead to its initial success.
Restaurants are incredibly hard to start and run successfully. That's why franchises are so popular, they take some of the guesswork out, at the expense of giving up control and individuality.
At the end of the day, people want tasty food, at a reasonable price, served quickly, and in a decent atmosphere. If this robot can provide that, it'll succeed. I don't see that it can satisfy the second and third criteria. If they get that down, and the cost of the robot isn't higher than a staffed and equipped kitchen they'll succeed.
That's a great elevator pitch. Fluff-free and obvious ex post facto.
Other than the beef, all the other components are standard for a decent restaurant. Fresh baked buns aren't anything special, nor is custom grind meat. And bragging about spending more on your food cost is dumb. It shows that he has no real idea about the day to day of keeping a restaurant financially afloat. He'll find out when the VC money runs out.
It was most likely cracy expensive just as these news machines are compared to a ordinary restaurant grade kitchen and you still need people going around unstucking things that get stuck.
Bringing industrial processes into street food seems ... unpractical.
That one from the 60s actually looks more impressive, wow!
Edit; I missed that he's paying his employees $16/hour (good for him). So if he has 2 employees fulltime, he's got $32/hour + payroll taxes/unemployment insurance etc to earn before he can pay off the R&D for this, his rent, his food cost, his utilities, his advertising, and then have an ROI for his investors.
And he has "experience" and a family in the business! Why they didn't talk him out of this is beyond me.
I have to imagine a big complication in starting an independent restaurant is the overhead of hiring/managing/supporting employees (i.e. wait staff, cooks, dishwashers, etc.). A large employee base probably requires a large franchise with economies of scale to distribute the cost of centralized HR over many restaurants.
Without that overhead, entrepreneurial restauranteurs can focus on differentiating the food, the location(s) of the restaurant and the ambiance.
Plus the article does hint the robo-restaurant still has employees to manage customers, clean, load the machine and presumably sort out issues with it on a not-infrequent basis...
Once you have the size down to where you just need one person at a time operating it, I bet the big fast food companies will swarm all over the opportunity to create tens of thousands of micro-franchises.
Why drive for Uber when you could set up a mini McDonalds wherever the health department lets you get away with it?
Japanese Vending Machine Unboxing
I really hope they are successful. The second order effects of this automation, especially for a busy family like ours are hours of saved time, that can be spent with the children.
However, IMHO, the source of the beef can trump all that. I used to buy a year's worth of beef from a local farmer all at once. Even after a year in the freezer, a burger made from his grass-fed beef tasted better than one made from meat bought from the grocery the same day. When you start out with high quality meat, it takes a long time before the flavor degrades.
OTOH, "regular" store bought ground beef tastes nasty after being frozen for a few months.
As you might have inferred by now, good burgers are typically made from cuts like brisket and chuck that are tough, inexpensive, and high in flavor. Using high-end steaks for burgers is simply a waste, doubly so for well-marbled ones.
The fat percentage would not be difficult. Any good butcher would probably be happy to help you set such a comparison up. That is, if they don't warn you that it's a waste to use that T-bone on a burger first.
This place is in San Francisco. Where are these "dozens of places" for a really good burger <$6?
But where are the "dozens" of places?
The point is that it's faster than a burger at a specialty burger restaurant, like Red Robin.
A grill at Red Robin operates in parallel and can easily beat this thing at throughput.
5 minutes is latency. The article says nothing about throughput, but the video shows multiple burgers pipelined on the machine's conveyors.
What I'd like to see more from this kind of startup is a desire to ensure that anyone that loses a job due to their product has the opportunity for retraining. Sure, it won't be great for profits, but if we're heading towards a time where low-paying jobs are to be automated then I'd love to see a trend start where people who will lose their jobs to automation can opt to move into management or train towards an entry-level job in the engineering required to run these tools.
What I really don't want is some smug SV type spouting a load of bullshit about how automation makes peoples jobs easier. It only makes them easier by relieving them of their duties.
The key would be to ensure that anyone that is to lose their job in the future through it being automated by innovative tech be given the opportunity to retrain for a better job. This kind of enforcement means that the job market isn't swamped by mass redundancy, and a consistent time period of retraining for people to re-enter that job market.
One thing that struck me as humorous though is the founder's comparison to self-driving cars (from Bloomberg's article): “What you’re watching is a technological feat. Self-driving cars need a lot of mileage before they become reliable. You’re seeing something similar here”
Not to dismiss the challenges with automating burgers, but its pretty straightforward compared to self-driving tech - there's basically no unknowns!
I always assume things are more complicated than they appear on the surface, so this is a surprise. You sound like you've explored this topic thoroughly. What is involved in having a robot produce a hamburger (not just the patty, of course)?
Self-driving cars, OTOH, have to work with nice smooth roads, or potholed monstrosities, or ice & snow, deer jumping out right in front of the car, or idiots tailgating you at 70 mph while you're trying to maintain distance from the car in front of you. Their environment is always changing, and not generally in a predictable fashion.
This is basically a precision automated assembly line, and to be honest plenty of things just as complicated as burgers have been assembled automatically.