Technology is developing at an exponential rate, and it's not isolated to Silicon Valley startups. Food companies across the globe are starting to grapple with the use of artificial intelligence, virtual reality, and robotics in the production, marketing, and distribution aspects of their business. However, how will this affect the human side of their organizations?
A few days ago, I read a great piece from NPRabout Zume Pizza. The Mountain View, CA-based pizza shop uses robots and algorithms to run most of its business. According to co-founder Julia Collins, the company uses a delivery truck that has 56 mini-ovens which can heat up to 56 pizzas that are en route for delivery. The truck just needs one human worker, and the robots and algorithms make sure pre-cooked pies are finished four minutes before scheduled delivery.
However, this is just a small company right down the road from Google. How are robots affecting the rest of the foodservice industry?
According to a study by economists at the Federal Reserve Bank of Chicago and DePaul University, robots are reshaping the work done by people in foodservice rather than replacing them. The Researchers found that improvements in technology and minimum wage hikes between 2000 and 2008 caused little immediate worker displacement.
What's more, the number of workers per restaurant was slightly higher in 2015 than in 2001, according to National Restaurant Association data. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics predicts this will continue, as well: leisure industry jobs, a broad category that includes restaurants, is expecting to grow 0.6% annually through 2024, in-line with the national average.
Many in the robotics industry believe automation in restaurants is not a simple as many would have you believe. While minimum wage hikes, including those encountered in 16 U.S. states in 2016, can put pressure on operators, it's not as if robotics will replace human workers overnight. According to Ken Goldberg, a professor of engineering and director of the People and Robots Initiative at the University of California, Berkeley:
"It's not like we're at the precipice of a revolution where the minimum wage goes up, and all these jobs disappear."
Automation techniques have still not been perfected for the restaurant industry. Kitchen jobs remain too complex for robots as they require multitasking. Some don't work safely with humans in cramped spaces, either. Robots in general, despite their aptitude for calculations, can have difficulty with the physical tasks required in cooking.
So for the restaurant industry, it looks like the human element is still required.
At least for now.