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Guacamole and tortilla chips are arranged for a photograph at a Chipotle Mexican Grill Inc. restaurant in El Segundo, California, United States, Wednesday, July 25, 2018.
Your Chipotle guacamole could soon be prepared by a robot.
Meet “Autocado,” a Chipotle robot designed to perform the more tedious tasks of making the chain’s guacamole, including cutting, coring and peeling avocados. With the robot prototype — which frankly looks more like a boxy silver refrigerator than a humanoid — Chipotle joins the growing ranks of fast-food companies looking to robotics to cut costs.
For Chipotle ( CMG ), the decision to automate this back-of-the-house task comes at a time of labor shortages in the restaurant industry, with 1.2 million vacancies in U.S. restaurants and lodging establishments in May. Before the pandemic, the number of vacancies in the industry had only exceeded 1 million once in the last 20 years. But Chipotle ( CMG ) said this “collaborative robot” won’t eliminate jobs, but instead employees will work with the robot to speed up guacamole production.
An employee will still mash the avocados with other ingredients such as salt, lime juice and jalapenos to create the guacamole’s creamy consistency.
“It’s important to us to maintain the experience of and prepare guacamole to our exacting standards,” said Curt Garner, Chipotle’s Chief Customer and Technology Officer. “The device was designed specifically for Chipotle with the goal of easing identified pain points for restaurant employees.”
Preparing a batch of guacamole takes just under an hour, but Autocado has the potential to cut that time in half, saving the fast-casual Mexican food chain $50 million if successful, according to the company.
These shifts are representative of a larger trend towards automation of tasks in restaurants. Hamburger chain White Castle implemented a robot called Flippy 2 that takes over the restaurant’s entire fry station. And restaurants are introducing artificial intelligence operations across the country.
To use the Autocado, an employee loads up to 25 pounds of avocados into it. The fruit is then cut in half, the cores and skins are removed, and the sliced and peeled avocados are collected in a bowl. (Yes, it’s a fruit.)
Chipotle buys over 100 million pounds of avocados each year, the company said.
Automated avocado peeling machines already exist. But Autocado is specifically designed for Chipotle’s needs and is proprietary, the company said.
For its design, Chipotle partnered with Vebu Labs, a robotics startup in California, to analyze the prep process at various Chipotle restaurants and identify the most time-consuming tasks for employees.
Chipotle has invested in Vebu as part of the company’s $50 million Cultivate Next venture.
Robot dishwashers may come next, the company said. And Chipotle is already testing “Chippy,” a robotic kitchen assistant that uses artificial intelligence to make tortilla chips to dip into Autocado’s guacamole.