Robots Could Take Over Fast Food Jobs

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Robots are now cooking food at fast food restaurants. In recent months, some fast food workers have been staging walkouts, complaining of low pay and a lack of benefits. But a new trend suggests that they may face competition that doesn't care what hours they work, or what they're paid. Fast food chains in Japan, China and Great Britain have begun piloting the use of robots to cook meals. And while robots have been emerging in recent years as a boon for completing menial tasks like dispensing medicines in hospitals, these fast food robots are capable of preparing full sushi rolls or noodle dishes for Asian food outlets. In many cases, customers complete their orders through a touchscreen, which then alerts the robot how to prepare the meal. No humans needed.

It stands to reason that American fast food companies will adopt the robots at some point. One new fast food robot is the noodle-slicing "Chef Cui" in China, which as The Associated Press reports, costs restaurateurs 30,000 Chinese yuan to buy, or about $2,000. Comparatively, a human noodle chef is paid about $4,700 a year in China, according to the AP.

For Liu Maohu, a noodle restaurant owner in Beijing, the choice of hiring a robot over a human is easy. "The robot chef can slice noodles better than human chefs," he told the AP. "And it is much cheaper than a real human chef."

This is just the beginning, too. A report by the McKinsey & Company consulting group says that robots will occupy about 1 out of every 8 commercial service jobs by 2025. And for fields like manufacturing, packing, construction and maintenance, the figure is roughly 1 in 4. To reach those numbers, companies will have to invest roughly $1.4 trillion, according to McKinsey.

More: 7 Jobs That Can Be Done By A Robot [Infographic]

Robots work on farms: Robots also are being used in the agricultural process. A group of dairy farmers in New York are using European-made robots and putting them to work milking herds. And as the AP recently reported, robots are entering the "last frontier of agricultural mechanization" -- fruit and vegetable field work. Previously, robots were not used for such work, because they weren't sensitive enough to handle the produce, which led to undesired bruising. The new robots, with names such as Lettuce Bot, are now endowed with advanced sensors and high-precision GPS location technologies to ensure the produce isn't damaged.

What will that mean for fast food workers?: In the past year, workers have staged brief walkouts at their jobs in seven U.S. cities, to draw attention to their demand that their wages -- usually close to the federal minimum of $7.25 an hour -- be doubled to $15 an hour. "The saddest thing about this story is that probably 10 years from now robots will replace human beings ... and low-skill workers will have really no place to go," John Curley, a radio host for KIRO in Seattle, said in a recent report about fast food protests that took place in that city.

In an e-mail to AOL Jobs, Hudson Riehle, a senior vice president for the National Restaurant Association wrote robots won't "replace the human factor" in the industry. He said a "personal touch" is "essential" throughout the industry. Indeed, his trade group projects the industry to continue growing over the next decade and add roughly a million new workers by 2023. Currently, there are 13.1 workers in the restaurant industry in America, according to the association.

Yet on his show Curley raised examples where robots were already replacing workers. To back up his claim, he pointed to McDonald's and the Japanese sushi chain, Kura. As he shared on his show, McDonald's just installed 7,000 touch-screens throughout Europe, eliminating the need for workers to take customers' orders. Kura, for its part, has been able to fully eliminate cashiers from their workflow. In their place, the chain has installed scales in their branches that customers use to weigh their food. The customers are then asked to leave the money in a bucket, similar to paying a highway toll.

A San Francisco company, called Momentum Machines, already has created a robotic assembly line that can assemble 360 hamburgers an hour. The company says the device could save fast food outlets $135,000 a year in labor costs, reports Digital Trends.

What do you think about the use of robots in the fast food industry? Share your comments below.

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