There’s a Robot That Can Flip Burgers Now
All the clichés about burger-flipping jobs are about to become obsolete.
I want to talk about Flippy, the burger-flipping robot—a phrase which my mind keeps trying to force into the “Rudolph, the Red-Nosed Reindeer” tune, but that’s not important.
What is important is that we have a robot that can flip burgers now, and this might change everything.
My favorite part of the video is the human in the background, calmly placing iceberg lettuce and tomatoes on Flippy’s burgers while dressed in impeccable chef whites. The human glances at Flippy and smiles, as if to say “We’re a team. The future will include both robots and people. There’ll never be one of you who’s capable of putting a lettuce leaf on a burger.”
My second favorite part is the music, which I was going to describe as the aural equivalent of “this robot loves its job” until I got to the very end of the video and saw them put the subtext right on the screen: “Flippy loves its job.” Good to know. (Won’t we feel bad, now, if we don’t let Flippy do its job?)
The most fascinating part, however, is how quickly we ascribe a robot arm—one that can be installed in five minutes!—with a personality. (I admit I was more than a little prepared for this because I’ve been reading Questionable Content since forever, in which characters like Jeremy, the robot limb, are presented as fully-realized individuals.)
Flippy’s grippers serve the purpose of both “head” (when together) and “hands” (when apart), and it is astonishing to see how quickly I could assign emotion to the angle and speed of Flippy’s movements. Flippy tilts its grippers curiously and then claps them together excitedly. The prep cook leans into Flippy’s path and Flippy pulls back patiently and politely.
That’s the part that feels like the real gamechanger here, not the fact that Flippy can identify when a burger is ready to be flipped. A Frymaster automates a lot of the french fry process, after all, but we’ve never given the Frymaster emotions.
And, maybe once Flippys (Flippies?) are installed in fast food chains worldwide, they’ll just be one more metal part that eliminates a few more jobs.
But the point is that we’re supposed to see Flippy as different. Like us, only more precise and able to work longer hours.
Is that what you see when you watch this video? Or am I giving this burger robot way too much narrative complexity?
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