Food robots: The year in review

Illustration for article titled Food robots: The year in review
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Last CallLast CallLast Call is The Takeout’s online watering hole where you can chat, share recipes, and use the comment section as an open thread. Here’s what we’ve been reading/watching/listening around the office today.

This year, while we were all distracted by a pandemic, civil unrest, the specter of fascism, climate change, World War III nearly breaking out live on Twitter, military confirmation of the existence of UFOs, and murder hornets, one of humanity’s greatest existential threats continued to grow ever stronger and more indomitable: robots. But here at The Takeout, we never take our eyes off the robots’ incremental efforts to replace humans.

Here’s a recap of some of our most important robot coverage this year. For your own safety I must remind you that this is but a small percentage of the robot news that actually unfolded in 2020, pertaining chiefly to food production and delivery. So many more robots are out there, lurking.


CES 2020 was basically an unending parade of kitchen robots 

Back in January, while we were focused on a presidential impeachment (remember that?), a cavalcade of kitchen robots descended on the annual Consumer Electronics Show to the delight of many, and to the mild horror of The Takeout.

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Marty the Stop & Shop robot celebrates first birthday amid murder trial

Earlier this year, Marty, the automated shelf-stocking robot with whom customers enjoy taking selfies, held a birthday party at Stop & Shop and put on a happy face despite being part of an ongoing murder investigation. It’s important to note that Marty was merely called as a witness at the trial (due to its cameras), and not as the defendant. This time.

Alexa, teach my children about cooking so I don’t have to

In February, KidKraft introduced a tech-enabled play kitchen at the New York Toy Fair, integrated with Amazon’s Alexa. Eventually Alexa will replace parents altogether, creating an entire generation of children that can be put straight to work in Amazon’s warehouses. (Currently, the company is opening new warehouses in the U.S. at a rate of about one a day.)

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Should we be concerned about Flippy the fast food robot?

We asked this question back in March, and the answer was, and always will be, “yes.”

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Behold the smooth, gliding motions of this robot noodle chef 

This past spring, a robot descended into the Tokyo subway system and began cooking soba noodles. Reviews were excellent, with one critic saying the food was “everything [one] could hope for in noodle nourishment.”

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Right on cue, robots are infiltrating grocery stores

Once coronavirus put the whole world on lockdown, the robots emerged as “saviors” for the quickly overwhelmed grocery industry. Quelle suprise!

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The robots continue to invade the fast food sphere

In June, a KFC in Moscow introduced a fully automated fried chicken system. After robots prepare an order, it’s transported via conveyor belt to a heated locker for customers to pick up using facial recognition technology. I shudder to think that the Colonel has unwittingly become a Russian asset, but the robots have no shame. Nothing is sacred in 2020.

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Sally the Robot angling to replace the salad bar in your local grocery store

Coronavirus killed the salad bar (or was it Millennials?), but robots came to save it. This is probably a good thing—it’s a sanitary, socially distanced way of ordering fresh, healthy food—but I’ll continue to hate on it because this is exactly how the robots get you. I’m no fool!

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The robots have come for White Castle

In July, White Castle announced it was now in cahoots with the robots, and had hired our old friend Flippy to man the grill at a Chicago-area location. By this point in the year, though, everyone was too emotionally drained to care. You really want to take over this world, robots? You can have it.

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The robots want to learn about your wine preferences now

August brought us a press release about “the newest AI-powered wine tool changing how millennial wine buyers and novice wine lovers alike find and order their vino!” Maybe this was a way to help you buy wine, or maybe it was a robot ploy to learn about our sensory triggers so it can replace us one by one with replicants.

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Walmart’s drones take to the skies

I thought this story from September would be the primary source of my robot nightmares for years to come. But then came October.

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Trouble brewing: How hackers can target home coffee makers

I still cannot believe the scariest thing I wrote this year was about coffee makers. This is the thing with robots: you never see the threat coming until it’s too late. It’s all fun and games until you’re murdered by your own appliances.

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Walmart’s shelf-scanning robot has crossed the Rainbow Bridge to hell

Our final robot story of 2020 came in November, when Walmart fired its shelf-scanning robots. Why? They just weren’t very good at their jobs. This was but a small victory for humans, and we still have a long road ahead in our battle against automation. But it’s been an exhausting year, and we need to celebrate whatever shreds of hope we can find. Besides, we’ve got to save our strength for whatever the robots have planned for us in 2021.

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Allison Robicelli is The Takeout staff writer, a former professional chef, author of three books, and The People's Hot Pocket Princess. Questions about recipes/need cooking advice? Tweet @Robicellis.

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