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03/16/2022

Chipotle testing robotic kitchen assistant — to make tortilla chips

Dan Berthiaume
Senior Editor, Technology
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Chipotle
Chipotle is testing an automated kitchen assistant.

Chipotle Mexican Grill is turning to artificial intelligence (AI) to streamline the process of making tortilla chips.

The fast-casual restaurant chain is piloting a customized autonomous kitchen assistant from Miso Robotics, nicknamed “Chippy,” to cook and freshly season tortilla chips. Chipotle guided Miso in tailoring its technology.

Leveraging AI, Chippy is trained to replicate Chipotle's exact recipe – using corn masa flour, water and sunflower oil – to cook chips, season with salt, and finish with fresh lime juice.  It was imperative that the technique remained the same so customers receive identically made chips every time.

Chipotle is currently testing Chippy at the Chipotle Cultivate Center, the company’s innovation hub in Irvine, Calif., and will be integrated into a Chipotle restaurant in Southern California later this year. The company is listening, testing and learning from employee and customer feedback before deciding on a national implementation strategy.

Chippy does not mark the first time Chipotle has gotten involved with AI-based automation. In March 2021, the company invested in autonomous delivery vehicle provider Nuro as part of the self-driving technology company’s Series C funding round.

And in June 2020, Chipotle rolled out Pepper, a digital concierge bot. Pepper asks for the customer’s location to find the closest Chipotle restaurant. Next, the customer is guided through the ordering experience, which mirrors the in-restaurant process. Customers also have the option to use natural language to describe their order to Pepper, followed by payment. 

Meanwhile, another fast-casual restaurant retailer, burger chain White Castle, is also utilizing Miso Robotics automated technology in its kitchen. White Castle is currently expanding a pilot of a solution that automates the work of an entire fry station. Following the fall 2020 deployment of a Miso Robotics Flippy robotic frying solution at a Chicagoland-area store and subsequent November 2021 upgrade to the new Flippy 2 version, White Castle is rolling the technology out to 100 new standalone locations.

“We are always exploring opportunities to enhance our employee and guest experience. Our goal is to drive efficiencies through collaborative robotics that will enable Chipotle's crew members to focus on other tasks in the restaurant," said Curt Garner, CTO, Chipotle.

"Everyone loves finding a chip with a little more salt or an extra hint of lime," said Nevielle Panthaky, VP of culinary, Chipotle. "To ensure we didn't lose the humanity behind our culinary experience, we trained Chippy extensively to ensure the output mirrored our current product, delivering some subtle variations in flavor that our guests expect."

"When Chipotle challenged us to see if our technology could meet the brand's high standards for culinary quality, we couldn't wait to flex our engineering and design muscles," said Mike Bell, CEO, Miso Robotics. "This partnership will allow us to move into new territory to help improve back-of-house functions and assist team members with their day-to-day responsibilities."  

Chipotle had over 2,950 restaurants as of Sep. 30, 2021, in the United States, Canada, the United Kingdom, France and Germany, and is the only restaurant company of its size that owns and operates all its restaurants.