The Kitchen of the Future is Built Around Automation
The future of food is a big and broad topic, covering a plethora of technologies and applications at different points of the supply chain.
Tech innovation can be found at any one of these points - from the way we grow food and support farming communities, to the processes factories use to produce meals en masse, to how restaurant kitchens prepare our favourite meals.
Restaurants are where consumers will become most exposed to tech innovation, as the industry turns to smart technologies to inform every part of the dining experience. One of those leading the way is Karakuri, a tech firm revolutionising quick service (QSR) and fast casual restaurants with intelligent, robotic kitchen automation. Earlier this year, the company unveiled their /FRYR automated fry line to the excitement of many, and they will be putting the systems into global fast food outlets across the next year.
Here, Karauri CEO and co-founder, Barney Wragg, talks about his vision for the future of food, and how robotics and automation will fit into our restaurant kitchens.
Innovating the food industry
The food industry has been taking on innovative technologies for some time but mainly on the farming and mass production side of the business. What is now so exciting is that we are starting to bring this tech innovation to consumers by providing quick service restaurant teams with ways to deliver consistently great tasting food to every customer, while also helping with some of the ongoing staffing and labour challenges in restaurants. Companies in the hospitality sector, especially in the QSR & casual dining space, are seeing unprecedented staffing shortages and increasing food costs due to inflation. Many of these companies are now looking to smart technologies to ease these pressures while improving the customer experience. This is where the opportunity lies - using intelligent automation in QSR and fast casual kitchens to support and enhance existing teams.
Are smart restaurant kitchens the future?
Simply put, yes. Walk into a fast food kitchen today and it is very different to the analogue environments of the past. You’ll find smarter kitchen devices, from ovens with complex combination cooking modes, to fryers that automatically filter the oil or adjust their cooking temperature to match the thermal impact of the food being cooked, to machine vision systems that are helping to predict quality and working patterns.
QSR and fast casual operators are increasingly investing in automation and robotics, and we expect these technologies to become commonplace across the industry within the next 3 to 5 years. AI-enabled robotics will work alongside people, similar to food processors and washing machines, relieving employees from some of the boring and mundane jobs they hate. Plus, the telemetry and capacity projection of these systems will help optimise kitchen production and minimise food waste.
The big challenge will be interoperability, and enabling all these systems to work harmoniously together, helping to manage operations, easing the complexity for employees and simultaneously providing valuable and real-time data for management.
Can we expect robot arms swinging about our local burger chains soon?
It's natural to connect the idea of robots with arms or humanoid construction. After all, it's what we’ve seen in sci-fi and futuristic tv shows and films. However, we don’t expect to see these in your local takeaway for many decades! Successful kitchen automation has to fit into the small, compact spaces of QSR restaurants and deliver incredible efficiency.
At Karakuri, we ruled out the use of existing industrial automation on the grounds that its size and cost was incompatible with QSR and fast casual kitchens’ needs. We’ve developed our own proprietary motion control solutions that better fit the size and operational requirements of these busy kitchens.
The future of Karakuri
It is a really exciting time for Karakuri as we begin to roll out /FRYR automated fry line and see the changes it makes to our customers’ businesses. We are first and foremost a deep tech firm that is developing systems that are complex, innovative and new. Right now, we’re at a tipping point where the team’s hard work and long hours is being revealed to the world, and they will be rewarded with seeing the restaurant industry’s excitement and adoption of that innovation.
But we’re not resting on our laurels. We are listening to the feedback of our customers, so we can continue to develop, build, and evolve new technologies. We want to bring our vision of a smart, interoperable kitchen to life and that means creating an ecosystem of technologies that can communicate with each other. In parallel with the development of /FRYR and our newer solutions, we are working with other industry leaders – from software providers to equipment manufacturers – via our Karakuri: Robot Ready program, to drive interoperability between all of the systems in a modern kitchen. We think the future of automation in kitchens is just beginning, and we’re excited to be part of the infancy of an industry.