• Robots invade foodie San Francisco, promising low prices, tasty meals and cheap labor

    SAN FRANCISCO — The lunchtime line is out the door at Creator, a recent addition to this city’s hip downtown foodie scene.

    But the chef here has no Michelin stars, no attitude and no heart. Because the chef is a robot.

    Steak, tomatoes, onions, buns and condiments get loaded into an ingenious machine, and a freshly ground, gourmet hamburger rolls out.

    “And it’s only $6,” says Creator founder, Alex Vardakostas, 34, who started flipping patties at his parent’s Southern California burger joint A’s Burgers at age 9 and figured he could find a better way to make this American classic. “For the price of a Big Mac, you’re getting organic ingredients and a perfect hamburger, every time.”

    More on: fast food restaurants by me

    Creator is a novelty to be sure, but it also is a harbinger of a robotic invasion that brings with it big questions about the future of food, employment and social interactions.

    Long known as a hotbed of hand crafted foods, some San Francisco restaurants are taking the opposite approach and turning to automation to handle food production.  Creator is one, and its robot-made burgers have people waiting in long lines.

    Long known as a hotbed of hand crafted foods, some San Francisco restaurants are taking the opposite approach and turning to automation to handle food production. Creator is one, and its robot-made burgers have people waiting in long lines. (Photo: Martin E. Klimek, USA TODAY)

    Not surprisingly, the Bay Area is proving to be both ground zero and test market for the march of artificial intelligence into the culinary world. Chalk that up to a variety of factors, including the prevalence of venture capitalists looking for the next tech breakthrough, a ready pool of voracious if time-crunched millennials, and a food-worker labor shortage that has forced a number of restaurants to close.

    “It’s a real struggle, look at employment listings in the food industry here and you’ll see job availability at everything from top-rated restaurants to coffee shops,” says Gwyneth Borden, executive director of the Golden Gate Restaurant Association, whose upcoming conference will include a session called “Robot Revolution: Are Robots the New Tool for Scaling?”

    Customers stare at the burger-machine robot at Creator, a hot new San Francisco eatery where human employees do everything except make the food.

    Customers stare at the burger-machine robot at Creator, a hot new San Francisco eatery where human employees do everything except make the food. (Photo: Martin E. Klimek, USA TODAY)

    “In any cities where the cost of living is going up, this is an issue,” says Borden. “That’s causing food business owners to get creative to hire people, whether that’s by looking at hiring the homeless or former convicts, or by offering workers gym memberships.”

    More on: Best fitness tracker

    Or by bringing in robots.

    It’s a shift is happening across the U.S. and the world. In Boston, customers at Spyceget served up health food bowls by an automated machine. In Brooklyn, BigEve Sushihas robots doing the rolling. Brussels-based Alberts is peddling its Smoothie Stationsacross that country. And the scientists at British-based Moley are working on a robot that will take over all chores in your home kitchen. 

    San Francisco has fast become an epicenter of this automated trend. Beyond the burger robot at Creator, there’s the dancing coffee shop robot at Café XSally the salad making robot at an undisclosed tech company cafeteria, and the fresh baguettes pumped out by the Le Bread Xpress robot at a local mall. Then add in the fresh smoothie robot at Blendid on the campus of the University of San Francisco, and Zume pizza in Silicon Valley, where employees share duties with robots.

    Robots = low cost, better food

    The entrepreneurs behind these ventures all lay out the same rationale for pushing a robotized food future. 

    A robot makes coffee drinks at Cafe X in downtown San Francisco. The company has three locations in the Bay Area, and soon will open up at the local airport. Founder Henry Hu says offloading the task of "pushing coffee machine buttons" to robots frees up humans to consult with customers on their order.

    A robot makes coffee drinks at Cafe X in downtown San Francisco. The company has three locations in the Bay Area, and soon will open up at the local airport. Founder Henry Hu says offloading the task of “pushing coffee machine buttons” to robots frees up humans to consult with customers on their order. (Photo: Martin E. Klimek, USA TODAY)

    They say that robots do monotonous, repetitive-stress jobs exceedingly well, which leaves humans to serve in more high-touch roles such as advising customers on menu selection. Robots happily work 24/7, allowing for access to more high-quality foods in environments where traditional food services close, such as hospitals and universities. And at popular restaurants robots quickly pay for themselves, allowing owners to put more money into ingredients while keeping prices down.

    “By eliminating the barista pushing buttons on a coffee machine, we can provide a very high-quality drink quickly at a lower price,” says Henry Hu, who came up with the idea for Café X five years ago while in college and now has three locations with another one coming to San Francisco’s airport.

    Customers watch a robot make coffee drinks at Cafe X in downtown San Francisco. The company has three locations in the Bay Area, and soon will open up at the local airport. Founder Henry Hu says offloading the task of "pushing coffee machine buttons" to robots frees up humans to consult with customers on their order.

    Customers watch a robot make coffee drinks at Cafe X in downtown San Francisco. The company has three locations in the Bay Area, and soon will open up at the local airport. Founder Henry Hu says offloading the task of “pushing coffee machine buttons” to robots frees up humans to consult with customers on their order. (Photo: Martin E. Klimek, USA TODAY)

    There’s little doubt about Café X’s target demographic. Step into one of their shops and you’re greeted with a modernist décor, thumping music and a robotic arm that dances. Customers invariably walk in and pull out their cell phones for photos and videos.

    “More than half of our customers are repeat, and our sales have doubled every year,” says Hu, who, in a familiar debate for robot food purveyors, is still deciding whether to own and operate his growing stable of robots or license the technology. “I think the future will be a mix of robot foods and places where you have personal experiences.”

    Food writer Eve Turow Paul, whose forthcoming book “Hungry” tackles the future of food, says the potential upside of robots in the culinary world is “the democratizing of good food.”

    Cafe X Founder and CEO Henry Hu, 25, photographed at Cafe X in downtown San Francisco.

    Cafe X Founder and CEO Henry Hu, 25, photographed at Cafe X in downtown San Francisco. (Photo: Martin E. Klimek, USA TODAY)

    Given the hectic all-hours pace of today’s work life, “there is going to be less and less time in the day to eat well,” says Paul, who is also the author of “A Taste of Generation Yum” about millennials and food. “So if there’s a meal that is transparent, of high quality, fast and affordable, why wouldn’t people try it?”

    More on: grind and brew coffee maker

    Beware the pitfalls of robot chefs

    But Paul also warns of potential pitfalls to an AI-powered foodie future.

    These include “huge displacements of food workers over the next 10 years, or less,” says Paul. “No one will be flipping burgers anymore.”

    Those most impacted will be workers on the low end of the pay scale, small salaries that ultimately will be made expensive when compared to robot overhead. 

    According to a recent study by the McKinsey Global Institute, of the 73 million U.S. jobs that will be lost to automation by 2030, those most susceptible are physical ones in predictable environments. Those include workers who operate machinery, prepare fast food, collect and process data.

    About half of workers who make minimum wage, which is typical in food services, are under age 25, according to a 2018 Bureau of Labor Statistics report on low-income workers. 

    Le Bread Express, a growing robot-driven kiosk in France, is taking root in San Francisco, where foodies get to have their French bread baked within minutes of pushing buttons.

    Le Bread Express, a growing robot-driven kiosk in France, is taking root in San Francisco, where foodies get to have their French bread baked within minutes of pushing buttons. (Photo: Le Bread Express)

    Once robots are implemented in eateries, Paul is concerned that big fast food chains may just opt to put savings generated from employee cuts into their coffers and not into higher quality ingredients. Another big by-product could be simply losing touch with the very meaning of a meal, she says.

    “Having a sensorial communitarian experience is a reason to go to a nice restaurant,” says Paul. “When there’s a robot making that food, you’re forgoing a certain sense of intimacy with another human being.”

    Benoit Herve knows all about the dining ritual as a Frenchman coming from a family of bakers. And yet in his thinking, creating a stand-alone machine that can deliver hot baguettes is not sacrificing any gourmet experience and, instead, allows the masses to experience what he grew up with as a kid.

    “Le Bread Express is not a vending machine, let us be clear,” the former tech worker says in his accented English. “We load half-baked loaves into the machine so that it can create something true and fresh for you for $4 in minutes. We keep the quality of a real French baguette and use technology to bring it to you.”

    Herve’s lone kiosk is currently in a Bay Area mall, which he says is not the ideal location. Instead, he’s in negotiations with a range of area universities and hospitals, places where something fresh at all hours might be more appreciated.

    That’s the identical mission of Blendid CEO Vipin Jain, a machine learning expert whose last venture was bought by Barnes & Noble.

    Blendid uses robotics to automated the more labor-intensive part about making a smoothie.

    Blendid uses robotics to automated the more labor-intensive part about making a smoothie. (Photo: Blendid)

    Although Blendid’s lone smoothie making machine now is in a university setting, he’s looking for more high-traffic locations where people might want access to a robot that can whip up exotic organic drinks with fresh coconut water, flax and ginger.

    Jain says the robot’s ability to expertly dispense precise amounts of aromatic ingredients guarantee a perfect concoction at a “reasonable” average price of $6 a drink. And, like many of his inventor peers, he says that what is lost in low-wage jobs is replaced by more specialized employment opportunities.

    “This is a debate that’s been going on since the Industrial Revolution, and we as a society have to create jobs in a different, higher quality,” he says. “We need people to design, manufacture, install, service and monitor these robots. We are creating 21st century jobs.”

    Machine skills expand exponentially

    But humans will need to stay one step ahead of a robot’s growing skill set. Experts in this field say that eventually the jobs being assigned to robots are bound to get even more complex.

    For example, Sally the salad making robot, which is built by Deepak Sekar’s whimsically named company Chowbotics, does a great job assembling and mixing a salad based on ingredients pre-loaded by a chef.

    “What is very difficult for a robot to do is prepare those ingredients, chopping and dicing and slicing, it’s one of the hardest things to automate,” says Sekar.

    At present, Sally is working inside the cafeteria of an undisclosed tech company, where, he says, it allows employees working late to “enjoy the same quality salad they might get from the chef during the day.”

    A customer tries out Sally, a salad-making robot that uses pre-stocked fresh ingredients to make meals on the spot for on the go workers. This machine is at an undisclosed tech company cafeteria.

    A customer tries out Sally, a salad-making robot that uses pre-stocked fresh ingredients to make meals on the spot for on the go workers. This machine is at an undisclosed tech company cafeteria. (Photo: Chowbotics)

    Sekar and his team are continually tweaking Sally’s algorithms and robotic chops, and have given it the ability to make a variety of Indian and Chinese bowl meals. “Getting robots to work flawlessly across hundreds of locations is not easy,” he says. “But this is coming, and it’s going to change restaurants.”

    Tech has already changed up the popular notion of what a burger restaurant can be. The McDonald’s model, which in a way was the first mechanized approach to burger-making with humans filling the roles of robots, has given way in this century to more hand-crafted burger places such as Shake Shack.

    But that’s now under threat by Creator, whose riveting robot has commanded the attention of legions since it’s unveiling here last fall.

    Robots can create a ‘utopian world’

    There are occasional failures — one of the two Creator burger machines conked out during a recent visit, causing lines of an hour which did not thin — but mostly founder Vardakostas is bullish on the future.

    “I like to think we’re creating a more creative world, a more utopian world,” he says. “Creator is automating a major segment of food for the first time, one where you get high-quality ingredients often from local suppliers, you’re getting big chefs who have offered to program our machines to make their favorite burgers, and you’re getting it at a good price.”

    As Vardakostas tells it, his obsession with this idea was born while “flipping about 300,000 burgers” for his parents at their Dana Point, California, eatery.

    Alex Vardakostas, 34, founder and CEO Creator restaurant in San Francisco's SOMA neighborhood. His burger-making robot has been 9 years in the making.

    Alex Vardakostas, 34, founder and CEO Creator restaurant in San Francisco’s SOMA neighborhood. His burger-making robot has been 9 years in the making. (Photo: Martin E. Klimek, USA TODAY)

    In college, he majored in physics and started to think about how robots could be made to automate, to perfection, the tedious jobs of slicing a bun, tomatoes and onion, and doling out precise amounts of seasoning.

    One Creator burger favorite, called The Recreator, calls for exactly 1 gram of habanero sea salt. “Any more, and it would ruin the burger, but the robot gets it right,” he says.

    Vardakostas saddled himself with one particularly challenging mission: ensuring that the robot could not only grind fresh beef for each patty on demand, but deliver the strands of beef to the griddle vertically as opposed to in a smashed patty, to better preserve flavor.

    All told, nine years and many fitful engineering team sessions went into building Creator’s burger-making beast.

    Once it was ready for prime time, Vardakostas, backed by unnamed venture funds, took a chance on a space not far from the team’s robot lab. Customers almost immediately flooded in to see his creation — with its 350 sensors and powered by 20 computers — make them lunch.

    Burgers coming off the robotic line at Creator in San Francisco. The company aims to open new stores here and around the U.S. soon, but is mum on details.

    Burgers coming off the robotic line at Creator in San Francisco. The company aims to open new stores here and around the U.S. soon, but is mum on details. (Photo: Martin E. Klimek, USA TODAY)

    As he watches diners eat their burgers on a recent day, Vadakostas smiles and shakes his head. It’s as if he knows what he’s seeing is a dream come true, but one that, he admits, has nightmarish possibilities.

    “Creators of new technologies need to also be good shepherds of that technology,” he says. “You need to make careful choices, because this all can be abused. All I can say is, we have created a machine designed for a world that we who work here all want to live in.”

    Follow USA TODAY national correspondent @marcodellacava

    From USA Today

  • Fresh dog food kitchen coming to New York as Manhattan embraces organic pet produce

    Does today feel like a turkey mac and cheese kind of day? Or maybe venison and squash. Perhaps it’s time for surf and turf?

    New York’s dog owners can from this spring ask their four-legged friends exactly those questions, with the opening of the city’s first kitchen dedicated to daily production of dog food.

    Pet owners will be able to come into the store, in Manhattan’s Union Square, and watch as the “chefs” whip up 2,000lbs of food each day, which will then go straight to the shelves.

    The New York kitchen will be the largest yet for Petco, the American pet store, and their partners Just Food For Dogs. Seven such kitchens are already operating in California, and capitalising on a growing trend. US sales of fresh pet food in groceries and pet stores jumped 70 per cent between 2015 and last year, to reach more than $546 million (£419m) according to Nielsen, a data company.  

    Just Food For Dogs
    Just Food For Dogs’s kitchen in Costa Mesa, California

    “Just as people have become sceptical of highly processed foods for themselves, they’re looking critically at their pets’ foods as well,” said Amy Zalneraitis, part-owner and chief brand officer of We Feed Raw, a 10-year-old raw food meal plan service based in Maine.

    “They think: How could something with a shelf life of over year be better than real, fresh food?”

    Petco plans to open a series of other kitchens over the next four years, in collaboration with the California-based Just Food For Dogs – a company which launched in 2010.

    More on: cbd flower buds uk

    When the two companies announced the tie-up, Rebecca Frechette, Petco executive vice president, described Just Food For Dogs as the “inventor of the most radical change in pet food in decades”.

    “We extensively researched the fresh, human-grade pet food market,” she said, adding that the company was “at the forefront of a new trend that is rapidly changing the industry.”

    And it is not just the pampered pooches of Manhattan who are dining out on fresh, organic meals.

    San Francisco-based NomNomNow, which makes pre-proportioned fresh meals specific to each pet, sends hundreds of thousands of meals a month to customers in 48 states.

    More on: Best fitness tracker

    “The general health consciousness of Americans is transferring to their pets, because we do consider pets as part of our family,” said Lynn Hubbard, the general manager of NomNomNow’s Nashville, Tennessee, production facility.

    But the trend is an expensive one.

    NomNomNow’s service costs up to $3.80 per meal for a 35-pound dog, and up to $2.80 per meal for a 12-pound cat. Normal pet food can cost around 55 cents a can.

    Just Food For Dogs, meanwhile, sells its venison and squash dish for $11.95 – the company is the largest consumer of human-grade venison in the US.

    More on: Grind and brew coffee maker

    But some veterinarians have questioned the trend of feeding human quality food to dogs, especially if it is simply supermarket-bought meat.

    “There are so many essential nutrients, from all different classes, that need to be considered,” said Lindsey Bullen, a pet nutrition specialist with the Veterinary Specialist Hospital of the Carolinas.

    More on: Google ranking

    “If they are too high or too low, or in an inappropriate proportion, it can cause significant problems for that pet that the client might not see for months or years to come.”

    Ms Bullen said she recommends her clients add canine and feline supplements to fresh foods from the supermarket, to ensure the animals get the correct nutrients.

    From The Telegraph

  • This World Health Day See What Our Nutritionist Does To Keep Herself Fit And Healthy

    There is an age-old saying, ‘Prevention is better than cure’. Accordingly, it is better to adopt a lifestyle which improves our health and prevents diseases, rather than adopting one after having fallen sick.

    More on: cbd hemp flowers uk

    I also avoid foods that include refined flour as the main ingredient as it is deprived of all nutrients.

    HIGHLIGHTS

    1. Health is a state of physical, mental, social and spiritual well-being
    2. I love to eat simple traditional meals freshly prepared from whole foods
    3. Persistent sleep deprivation can wreak havoc on health

    Health is a state of complete physical, mental, social and spiritual well-being. The importance of good health requires no explanation, it is central to our very existence. There is an age-old saying, ‘Prevention is better than cure’. Accordingly, it is better to adopt a lifestyle which improves our health and prevents diseases, rather than adopting one after having fallen sick.

    I am a nutritionist and here’s what I eat and what I don’t eat for maintaining good health. Let’s begin with the stuff I avoid.

    More on: Grind and brew coffee maker

    More on: Google ranking

    I stay away from ready-to-eat, processed and packaged convenience foods straight out of the supermarket shelves. These have a lot of hidden ingredients, and even though, some of them might claim to be healthy, they are laced with hidden sugars, excess salt, excess fats and a concoction of chemicals like preservatives, stabilizers, flavor enhancers etc.

    Also read: 8 Immunity-Boosting Juices To Drink When You’re Sick

    I also avoid foods that include refined flour as the main ingredient as it is deprived of all nutrients.

    I love to eat simple traditional meals freshly prepared from whole foods. A typical breakfast for me is either egg parantha or egg with sweet potatoes, some stuffed paranthas with curd, or poha/ upma/ daliya with curd or a variety of chilas and idlis. My staple lunch is dal-roti-subzi-salad or rice-chana/ rajma/ kadhi etc. Dinner is again the same usual stuff, its mostly dal-rice or dal-roti-subzi-salad. The mid meals usually comprise a tall glass of buttermilk, a handful nuts, a colourful plate of seasonally available fruits or a cup of haldi milk or cold coffee. I never leave home with my meals and mid meals, depending on the time of the day and how long I’d be away.

    mhss9ehg

    I stay away from ready-to-eat, processed and packaged convenience foods straight out of the supermarket shelves.
    Photo Credit: iStock

    I also drink lots of water and other fluids like nariyal pani, nimboo pani, buttermilk, herbal teas etc, roughly about 10-12 glasses in summer and about 8 glasses in winter.

    My diet may seem monotonous and repetitive, yet it’s not. It’s wholesome, fulfilling and nourishing. With a little bit of culinary skills at work, the diet can be made quite interesting.

    You can pretty much see that I am not avoiding any major food groups like ‘carbs’, and each meal is balanced. What is equally important is to identify hunger and fullness signals and eat accordingly. Portion control and more or less fixed meal timings are my biggest tools.

    Also read: Here’s How Your Lifestyle Choices Can Affect Ageing

    I do give in to temptations occasionally and I do eat some stuff made at home on special occasions like ladoos, mithai, halwa, poori etc. Here again, my tool is portion control. Also, I don’t let a cheat meal translate into a cheat day.

    Routine exercises and adequate sleep are also crucial to maintaining good health. While exercise helps maintain fitness, burn fat and gain muscle; sleep enables rest and recovery. Persistent sleep deprivation can wreak havoc on health.

    More on: Best fitness tracker

    So, healthy eating is not as complicated as it may seem to be. It involves wise selection, exercising portion control and discipline in timings. When you don’t recognize an ingredient on a food package, understand that your body doesn’t recognize it either. When in dilemma, follow the simple thumb rule – If it comes from a plant, eat it; if it is manufactured in a plant, don’t eat.

    This World Health Day, here’s wishing you good health and well being!

    Also read: This Simple Lifestyle Modification Is All You Need To Get Rid Of Joint Pain And Arthritis Pain. And, It Is Free Of Cost!

    (Pooja Malhotra is a nutritionist based in Delhi)

    Disclaimer: The opinions expressed within this article are the personal opinions of the author. NDTV is not responsible for the accuracy, completeness, suitability, or validity of any information on this article. All information is provided on an as-is basis. The information, facts or opinions appearing in the article do not reflect the views of NDTV and NDTV does not assume any responsibility or liability for the same.

    From NDTV