Walmart is in the “early stages” of testing a kitchen robot assistant to see whether it can make the concept work for its in-store delis.
The supermarket giant, which has owned Asda in the UK for the past 20 years but is selling it to Sainsbury’s, is trialling the ‘Flippy’ robot created by US firm Miso Robotics.
The £45,000 machine has been touted as a game-changer in the foodservice sector due to its ability to bring unprecedented levels of automation to commercial kitchens, particularly in fast food environments.
Last year it hit the headlines when its first official ‘shift’ at a burger restaurant ended with it being taken off line after staff failed to keep up with it.
Walmart is putting the robot through its paces at its culinary development centre in Bentonville, Arkansas, where new equipment and concepts are tested.
The chain saw the robot in action at Dodger Stadium in Los Angeles, where caterer Levy Restaurants has been using it to fry up to eight baskets of chicken tenders and potatoes simultaneously.
David Zito, CEO of Miso Robotics, told Yahoo Finance that Walmart potentially sees the robot as a solution for carrying out some of the more mundane and repetitive tasks at its delis.
“If you think about commercial kitchens, they really are micro-manufacturing facilities. And yet, they are some of the hardest conditions for people to work in. Our whole thing is not about job replacement, right. You hear this over and over again. Automating food is very difficult. Ask any chef. Their goal is to try to faithfully reproduce that delicious recipe that they unlocked once.
“And in software we do that all day long, we make an app, it’s great, and everyone gets the same experience over and over again. With food, you crack that code once, and you get that flavour that’s so great and then it’s so hard to faithfully reproduce it. What we want to do is assist the hardworking linemen cooks and chefs in America with tools to give them the ability to faithfully reproduce while taking the burden off some of these more repetitive and mundane tasks.”
Mr Zito said the robot would serve as an “extra set of hands,” allowing deli staff to spend less time putting potato wedges and chicken tenders in fryers and more time on other services like taking customer orders and prepping other foods.
It also has benefits in terms of product consistency and food waste minimisation, the report said.