Nala Robotics has launched a fast food robot that it says can fry chicken wings, French fries, and other foods, season them, and plate them all autonomously. It’s called “the Wingman,” and it’s available to rent for $2,999/month.
“The Wingman is our latest robot to help restaurants and other food providers to boost efficiency in the kitchen and scale production, while minimizing the potential for contamination,” Ajay Sunkara, CEO of Nala Robotics, said in a statement. “It’s no secret that chicken wings are a very popular food choice in America and across the globe, prepared in a variety of styles and cuisines. This is where our technology is essential, where we can cook an endless array of dishes, while at the same time meet high consumer demand as labor shortages continue to challenge the industry worldwide.”
According to Nala, Wingman can cook multiple different foods at the same time and season them individually. It can take foods out of a frozen storage and dispensing area, deep fry them, season them, and plate them ready to serve. Wingman can also bread chicken, toss fries, and add dry rub to wings.
The Wingman joins hamburger-making robots like Flippy from Miso Robotics that White Castle recently bought for 100 of its locations and other kitchen robots that are automating food processing, cooking, and presentation, particularly in fast food settings. The result over time could be fast food restaurants that need far fewer human workers — if any at all.
“With its built-in clean in place functionality, The Wingman uses artificial intelligence and high-performance camera and vision systems to significantly improve efficiency for high-volume deep frying, while maintaining high-quality consistency,” Nala Robotics says.
At $3,000 per month, Wingman is already cheaper than a human worker. In fact, significantly cheaper.
Even if the human worker’s hourly wage is $7/hour, Wingman saves restaurant owners 20% on labor costs. With the ongoing labor shortage, however, many fast food restaurants who are struggling to retain workers find that they’re having to pay $15/hour. And a new law signed by California governor Gavin Newsom this month will push some fast food workers’ salaries up to $22/hour.
(It’s worth noting than an adjusted-to-inflation minimum wage should actually be significantly higher.)
At $22/hour, Wingman will save employers 75% on wages, assuming 18 hours of operation per day over an average 30-day month. Naturally, restaurants that are open 24/7 will see even more savings.
All of which means, robots get better and humans get more expensive, we might seem massive job loss. As of May 2021, there were over three million “fast food and counter” workers in the US, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.
“Around year five or seven, you’re going to start seeing a lot of … a lot or all new-build kitchens being completely reinvented, fully autonomous, no humans in the back of house, 25% the square footage, probably fits in a shipping container, completely changing the entire industry and potentially disrupting the franchise model,” Miso Robotics cofounder Buck Jordan told me in late 2020.
That’s now just three to five years away.
Of course, the reality is you’re still going to need people to fill the freezer with food, clean, take the food to customers, and manage payment. Robot proponents argue that this frees people up to do what they’re best at: higher-value tasks like engaging with customers.
That’s likely true, to an extent.
But it’s also likely true that introducing more and more robots to jobs in the fast food and other industries is going to cause at least short-term job loss. And that retraining and reskilling programs will be essential to help people take higher-value jobs.