In order to save on labor costs, the Kernel restaurant in Manhattan installed a robot arm that heats up vegan burgers and fries.

Kernel, the brainchild of Chipotle co-founder Steve Ells, has been touted as a potential reinvention of lunch. The menu was created by former Eleven Madison Park executive chef and Kernel’s culinary director, Andrew Black. Unlike other restaurants that cater to office workers in Manhattan, Kernel only has three employees on site at all times.

“Traditional fast food restaurants employ 8-15 people a week, which creates a lot of administrative work, so they can’t focus on providing value to customers,” says Black.

The key to this was finding a way to keep up with potential orders and maintain quality without increasing administrative costs. The solution was a robotic arm.

Kernel’s robot hand doesn’t actually cook food. Ten people work in the central kitchen of the restaurant chain. The food is delivered by courier to the restaurant. The robotic arm then picks up the delivered food and places it in a specially designed oven. People take the warmed dishes, wrap them up and put them in the cupboards for the customers to receive the food.

According to Black, having a robotic arm allows them to pay both on-site and central kitchen workers $25 an hour, which is significantly higher than New York’s minimum wage of $16 an hour. Kernel developed the robot arm together with the company Kuka. Its major technical innovation is software that determines how long to cook items.

When an order comes in through the Kernel app, it goes through a system that sends commands to the robot arm to order the dishes based on the order sequence.

Kernel has raised $36 million from several venture capital firms. Its investors include Raga Partners, Rethink Food, Virtru Investment Partners and Willoughby Capital. PitchBook classifies it as a $100 million robotics company.

Source: The Verge