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RobOps is important for FoodTech

By Team InOrbit

The relationship of technology and food production and distribution has a longer history than most people realize. Early man used sticks and stones to shovel dirt as subsistence farming was invented. The first plows made their appearance as early as 4,000 BCE, and Mendel famously applied scientific rigor alongside engineering as his experiments cross-breeding peas led him to be widely considered the “father of modern genetics”.

The process of producing food and bringing it to the table is an ever-evolving exercise. The introduction of automation into agriculture, and related areas of food technology, or FoodTech, are poised to revolutionize these fields again. FoodTech is a broad category of initiatives designed to help feed the explosive growth in our global population, to manage waste, to address food scarcity, support a troubled supply chain, and revolutionize food service to tackle labor challenges. Investors in FoodTech want to see technologies applied that will strengthen everything from production to distribution to consumption. With such an expansive scope, much of the FoodTech innovation often focuses very pointedly on solutions for specific yet complex issues. 

For our purpose, let’s focus on some of the work being done in food service. Since the pandemic struck in 2020, safety and sanitation have been of major concern to the food service industry. Aside from labor shortages and ongoing supply chain headaches plaguing the sector,  simply ensuring that food is being handled and prepared safely is a pressing issue. Food robots and full-service food preparation platforms are bringing the dream of contactless food preparation much closer to reality. Driven by technologies ranging from robotics, to machine vision to AI, companies like Picnic, Chowbotics, and  Miso Robotics are changing the game.

Flippy 2 Full Cooking Process (50s)

Miso’s flagship product, Flippy, is an advanced fry-station cobot system that has made headlines (granted not all positive) since it hit the market in 2018. This year, Flippy 2 is making waves in the world of QSRs (quick serve restaurants), with exponentially more speed and accuracy than its predecessor (it can even make chicken wings now). Plans are reportedly in motion for expanded Flippy 2 deployments at White Castle and other restaurants.

 

At the front of the restaurant, the current labor shortage cannot be ignored. While the science fiction robot waiter has yet to be fully realized, inroads are being made for service robots in restaurants by companies like Keenon, and Bear Robotics with the launch of Servi.     

The biggest non-robotic FoodTech story of the recent past has to be the development of the alt-protein category and the successes of Beyond Meat, and Impossible Foods. The bold trends in meatless meat are great examples of how a market desire for healthy / cruelty-free meat options led food scientists to dramatically advance a host of technologies. This success has led to accelerated developments in alt-seafood, cheeses, eggs, and (not plant-based but) lab-grown milk.

Science and engineering meet across many areas of FoodTech automation. While regulations are still being debated, the food supply chain is clearly in store for continued sweeping growth. This ranges from innovative food packaging solutions at the warehouse level, to cloud kitchens, and delivery robots managing that tricky last mile. DigitalFoodLab’s hype cycle curve and trend report are well worth looking at for even more detail on where the industry is headed.

At InOrbit, we believe automation is key to addressing our biggest FoodTech and supply chain concerns. As automation advances are better integrated into existing systems and in concert with the human workforce, effective RobOps are absolutely critical. Last year we discussed the state of last-mile delivery in detail, and tackled even more in our whitepaper. Part of that focus was on how good RobOps allows automation to work in collaborative harmony with an already impacted workforce. This becomes even more important  as these pervasive technologies lead inevitably to multi-robotic system implementation in kitchens and restaurants. A foundation of effective RobOps will be integral to scalability.

On Wednesday, Feb. 2, InOrbit CEO Florian Pestoni will talk with industry experts (to be announced shortly) in our latest webinar to discuss the role of automation in FoodTech, and how RobOps plays into this dynamically evolving space.

You can sign up to join our free webinar right here.

Image credits:
Picnic Pizza Station via Picnic
Flippy 2 video via MISO Robotics
Servi via Bear Robotics
Impossible burger via Impossible Foods
Hype Cycle Curve via DigitalFoodLab
Starship robot via Starship Technologies