Robotics Company Prepares to Take Responsibility For Displaced Workers

Momentum Machines aims to eliminate the burger boy—and retrain him to be an engineer

1 min read
Robotics Company Prepares to Take Responsibility For Displaced Workers
Photo: Momentum Machines

San Francisco’s Momentum Machines has been working for several  years to develop a robotic system that can make the perfect custom hamburger—cooking the burger, slicing and placing the toppings, even, eventually, grinding  meat to order—at the rate of 360 burgers an hour. The company’s aim is to replace the line cook at fast food restaurants. Initially, it plans to set up its own chain of restaurants; eventually, it expects to sell its burger-robot to competitors.

The company recognizes that when a restaurant brings in its system, jobs will be eliminated; it wants the men and women who lose their jobs to become engineers and work to design more automated systems. On the website, the company states: “We want to help the people who may transition to a new job as a result of our technology the best way we know how: education. Our goal is to offer discounted technical training to any former line cook of a restaurant that uses our device.  We will certainly need more engineers to design new devices and technicians to service a growing line of automated restaurant solutions. These are the minds that can do this job.”

It also is asking for ideas about other ways it can “help with the transition” as robots replace workers; to submit your thoughts, email hello@momentummachines.com.

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Robot with threads near a fallen branch

RoMan, the Army Research Laboratory's robotic manipulator, considers the best way to grasp and move a tree branch at the Adelphi Laboratory Center, in Maryland.

Evan Ackerman
LightGreen

This article is part of our special report on AI, “The Great AI Reckoning.

"I should probably not be standing this close," I think to myself, as the robot slowly approaches a large tree branch on the floor in front of me. It's not the size of the branch that makes me nervous—it's that the robot is operating autonomously, and that while I know what it's supposed to do, I'm not entirely sure what it will do. If everything works the way the roboticists at the U.S. Army Research Laboratory (ARL) in Adelphi, Md., expect, the robot will identify the branch, grasp it, and drag it out of the way. These folks know what they're doing, but I've spent enough time around robots that I take a small step backwards anyway.

The robot, named RoMan, for Robotic Manipulator, is about the size of a large lawn mower, with a tracked base that helps it handle most kinds of terrain. At the front, it has a squat torso equipped with cameras and depth sensors, as well as a pair of arms that were harvested from a prototype disaster-response robot originally developed at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory for a DARPA robotics competition. RoMan's job today is roadway clearing, a multistep task that ARL wants the robot to complete as autonomously as possible. Instead of instructing the robot to grasp specific objects in specific ways and move them to specific places, the operators tell RoMan to "go clear a path." It's then up to the robot to make all the decisions necessary to achieve that objective.

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