Spyce Has Built the World's First Entirely Robotic Kitchen
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According to the most recent data available, the food robotics market is estimated to reach a value of $2.5 billion by the year 2022, suggesting that far from being on their way, the robots have already arrived.
Automation in any industry is an understandable cause for concern for the human workforce. For a long time now, analysts and news outlets have been heralding the doom of human workers in one industry or another due to the inexorable advance of automation. However, while robots can be very good at performing repetitive tasks or operating machinery, there is still plenty of room for the human touch, especially in the hospitality industry.
Spyce is passionate about robotics and is helping push the format forwards with its fully automated kitchen concept.
The brainchild of four MIT mechanical engineering students, Spyce was born out of a desire to create cheaper food without sacrificing quality. Takeout food is expensive in the Cambridge, Massachusetts area, and the hungry students wanted to come up with an alternative.
"Pretty much from day one, we were all more excited about building a restaurant than we were a technology company," said Spyce Cofounder and CEO, Michael Farid. "We weren't building this for anybody else, we were building this for ourselves."
The result of this endeavor is Spyce, a restaurant serving delicious salad bowl meals inspired by cuisine from around the world. Korean-, Roma-, Lebanese-, Thai-, and Indian-inspired bowls are available, and retail for around seven to eight dollars. Spyce has attracted $24.8 million in joint funding from Maveron and Collaborative Fund for the project. The concept also drew the attention of Michelin-starred chef Daniel Boulud, who has not only invested in the business but also joined the team as an advisor, assisting with the creation of the restaurant's beautiful dishes.
However, the real brand differentiator in the Boston-based Spyce restaurant is found not in the food but in the kitchen.
You won't find a single flesh-and-blood human in the Spyce kitchen, with the entire department being manned by the latest in automation technology. The robots are responsible for every part of the kitchen operation at Spyce - from prep and cooking to plating food and even cleaning up.
"We can serve you a really nice, creative meal each and every time," said Cofounder and Chief Operating Officer, Kale Rogers. "Your meal is cooked in front of you for you. I think that's pretty powerful. The most important thing, honestly, is the food and the food quality. It's not trying to make a certain genre cheaper. It's trying to make the best food product that you can get in a fast-casual setting. And having to sell it at a more affordable price point."
When customers first arrive at Spyce, they are directed to a bank of kiosks from which they can place their order and pay.
The team of robots in the open kitchen then get started adding ingredients to woks and cooking the food - in full view of the customer. It was very important for Spyce's founders that the process be completely transparent, and they wanted the entertainment factor of watching the robot kitchen in action to be very much a part of the experience.
Once the bowl of food is assembled, it is automatically placed on the pass where it is collected by one of Spyce's human employees. The staff member then finishes the dish with dressings or toppings, such as whipped ricotta or cilantro, before finally delivering it to the customer.
The process creates a quite lovely rhythm of dishes being prepared, and the sight of the robots in action looks impressive and invokes thoughts of a Rube Goldberg machine. While the works themselves do slightly resemble food being cooked in a tumble drier, the achievement of the technology at work is incredibly impressive.
Spyce could represent the vanguard of a new breed of (almost) entirely robotic restaurants, and it will be exciting to see what technological innovations will be revealed in the sector next.
"When Michael and his three classmates emailed me about a robotic kitchen that could elevate fast food, I was impressed," said Spyce's Culinary Director, Daniel Boulud. "The video of their cutting-edge technology was unlike anything I'd seen before. The experience of the robotic kitchen, the food and the vision of the Spyce team far exceeded my expectations. Their passion and innovation needed a strong commitment to ingredients and excellent recipes. So, in addition to becoming an investor, I accepted the position of Culinary Director at Spyce."
Robotics and automation are set to be hot topics at Future Restaurants 2019, taking place this September in Austin, TX.
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