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Robots in Boston are better known for their ability to perform backflips than serve rice bowls, but that could all be about the change following the launch of Spyce, the world's first robotic restaurant. How does it perform against more traditional human run outfits? Ai Works takes a look.
Spyce was founded by 4 MIT students frustrated by the lack of healthy and cheap fast food. The 4 water polo teammates balked at paying more than $10 for a meal but were unimpressed by the lack of nutrition in cheaper alternatives.
So they attempted to solve the problem in the only way that MIT Engineers would: they automated it.
Their kitchen consists of 7 rotating pans, heated by magnetic induction. Diners order one of 7 meals (on an iPad. Obviously), the ingredients are flung into the pan by a robotic arm, and then cooked as the pan rotates. Once cooked, the pan tips the meal into a waiting bowl, before cleaning itself, ready for the next meal.
All meals are available as vegetarian, vegan and gluten free, a significant advantage over most fast food outlets which may at best offer a cursory sad bean burger or worse still the dreaded Portobello mushroom passed off as a patty.
But how does it stack up against human run establishments? We have a look across the key metrics: cost , speed and quality.
Spyce is cheap. At $7.50 per meal its probably the cheapest fast food you're going to find in Boston. Even McDonalds's, the golden (arch) standard of cheap fast food, will charge you $8 for a Big Mac Meal in Boston
Even ostensibly healthier options like Subway will still set you back $9.25 for a Turkey Breast Sub meal
A specific nutrition breakdown for Spyce isn't available, but even their most calorific option, the Indian bowl comes in at 790 calories vs 810 calories for Subway's purported "healthy" option, Turkey Breast.
(the presumption has been made that people at Subway generally choose Hearty Italian, and not the granular, gravel infused monstrosity that is 9 grain Oat Bread, and I think fairly so)
Spyce (and slightly healthier to boot)
Spyce boasts of being able to produce a meal in "around three minutes". So we'll take that to mean 3 minutes and 59 seconds.
How does that compare to the fastest of fast foods? Well as fun as it would have been to test this in the field, this writer (and his arteries) thank Business Insider for having already done that research.
They tested 2000 fast food locations, and determined that Louisiana founded Raising Cane's is the speediest fast food establishment around, serving a meal in an average of 2 minutes and 48 seconds.
This puts even Mc Donalds and their famed Speedee System to shame, the fast food giant managing to plate up in "only" 3 minutes 59 seconds.
This one goes to the humans, while Spyce has performed admirably to draw with McDonalds it's beaten by the little known chicken establishment Raising Cane's
This is always going to be a subjective matter of taste. The fact that we can't seemingly even agree on which fast food establishment makes the best french fries (although it seems obvious to this writer that its McDonalds. Wendys? You animals)
For some semblance of objectivity we turned to google. Spyce has a staggering 4.9 average review. To put that into context, none of the 17 McDonald's in the vicinity managed higher than 3.8, averaging 3.3
Basically, people seem to be loving the food at Spyce:
The food is really good! We were there and ordered 3 different bowls and we loved all, great flavor, quick service and awesome price. The robot cooking the food is amazing!
And perhaps we shouldn't be surprised. While the food is cooked by robots, it was designed by esteemed chef Sam Benson, fomerly of Michelin Starred Café Boulud
You can't argue with a 4.9 out of 5 rating. Spyce wins hands down
So it looks like a pretty clear 2-1 victory for the robots on this one. Cheaper and healthier than a Big Mac, and prepared as quickly. Or as one diner put it:
Delicious food at a reasonable (for Boston) price, and fast.
Humans can take some solace in the fact that the process isn't entirely automated (yet). Finishg garnishes are provided by a friendly human or "Garde Manger" as they are referred to by the Spyce team( oo la la).
So we might not be entirely out of a job just yet. Until those MIT boys figure out how to build a robot capable of artfully dumping a dollop of avocado onto a rice bowl. At which point, that robot will become the most popular account on Instagram.