Canada Markets closed

Restaurant industry ‘late to the automation party,’ Miso Robotics CEO says

Miso Robotics CEO Mike Bell joins Yahoo Finance Live to discuss partnering with restaurant chains like Chipotle and the outlook for automation in the restaurant industry.

Video Transcript

BRIAN SOZZI: Welcome back. Robots in the workforce are happening, people. You may have heard of White Castle's burger flipping AI Flippy. Well, we now-- after a few months of tests, Chipotle is set to roll out their own mechanical friend with the chip-making robot, Chippy.

For more on Chippy, Flippy, and Zippy, and what this means for the future of the restaurant industry, let's welcome in Mike Bell, CEO of Miso Robotics. Mike, good to see you. I'm just waiting for a robot behind you to come and wave to me. Maybe we'll save that later for that grand finish. But look, are we nearing the day when I am going to walk into a Chipotle, and a robot is just going to make me a burrito?

MIKE BELL: Well, Brian, we're nearing the day when a robot is going to do more and more of that portion of making a burrito. Our view is that there's a whole bunch of tasks that are back in the house that are just better suited for automation. Dealing with human beings is not one of them. We think that humans are best dealing with other humans. We don't envision a humanless restaurant, but we do look at restaurants and think there are a lot of tasks that are mundane, that are repetitive, and they're just better suited for today's robot technology.

BRAD SMITH: So that's what we've continuously heard, is task displacement, instead of job displacement. But the reality of that, where will we see other job opportunities that ultimately get birthed for humans as a result of having robots take on some of those more mundane tasks, if you will?

MIKE BELL: Well, the robot industry itself is pulling in people from all different industries because it's growing at such a fast rate. And there simply aren't a lot of robot experts sitting around looking for a job. So what's happening is, we're pulling in people as an example from other industries to be robot installation specialists or robot trainers or computer vision experts, both engineers as well as non engineers. And so we're seeing a real shift-- what we will see going forward is a real shift in the workforce and just more technical jobs that are being created by industries like ours.

JULIE HYMAN: Mike, it's interesting because it feels to me like the food industry is a little bit-- the food service industry is a little bit later in the robotics cycle. I mean, if you look at manufacturing, for example, robotics has been there for a very long time. What created that sort of tipping point here? Is it more public acceptance of these technologies? Is it further development of these technologies? What's changing?

MIKE BELL: Julie, you're right on. The restaurant industry is late to the automation party. When you look at other industries, the ones that you mentioned, they're maybe a decade ahead of the restaurant industry in the adoption cycle of automation. And so there's a lot of reasons for that, a lot of that have to do with the different environments that exist in a restaurant. There's a whole bunch of reasons for it.

But when you step back and look at the restaurant industry, one could view it as the nation's largest distributed factory base. I mean, right here, as we're speaking, there's about a quarter of a million human beings moving fries through a fry station left to right. And they'll do it all day and be back again tomorrow.

And so the restaurant industry has been really late adopters to a whole bunch of technology. We're here to change that. And the technology has very suddenly been approachable, affordable, and it's easy to install and it's super reliable. We're building a robot that is meant to be as reliable and easy to use as a dishwasher or a refrigerator, et cetera. And so the day is upon us.

BRIAN SOZZI: Mike, why is big fast food, why have they been so late? To me, this makes all sorts of sense. Yet, I don't hear a McDonald's, I don't hear a restaurant brands really talking about implementing these type of robotics. Are you having conversations with them?

MIKE BELL: Yeah, we're in conversation with all the leading brands. They're all in the restaurant industry. They're all watching us, look what we're doing, and we have active tests, late stage tests with many of the brands. The reasons why they're late to market or late to adopt this kind of technology, there's just a complex set of reasons. But they've gotten the memo, let's put it that way.

One could argue that this industry has even more acute need for a labor solution than other industries. The labor gap in the restaurant industry is upwards of a million people. There's just vacancies that they can't fill. And when they fill them, they have a difficult time retaining people for these jobs.

So the demand for our solution is, in the restaurant industry, I would say, it exceeds the other industries that we've mentioned. And despite the fact that the restaurant industry is kind of late to the party, the solution's here and now. We're moving quickly. Can't move quickly enough. There's just-- the demand is pretty incredible. But we're here to solve the problem with them.

BRAD SMITH: You know, it's interesting because we also understand that you're trying to make these robots operate more like humans, even so much so that you're kind of inserting room for error, if you will, even in the type of chip, the perfection of the chip that gets created. Why can't all the chips just be perfect, Mike?

MIKE BELL: Yeah, well, they can be. I think the nature with Chipotle's chips, Brad, is that they're intended to be uneven. And they have an artisanal element to how they're created. You may have had the chips and noticed that some of them have kind of more concentrated area of seasoning and others don't. They don't taste like a bag of chips you buy from the grocery store. That's intentional. And a robot can absolutely mimic that and perform that as well as a human being.

BRAD SMITH: Mike, thanks. I'm looking for that perfect chip, quite honestly here. Mike Bell, Miso Robotics CEO, we appreciate your time here today.