Many people have predicted that it will become our future, but perhaps the future is now: are robots slated to take over and replace low-wage jobs?
A San Francisco start-up called Momentum Machines, Inc., is at least trying to do something like that. So far, they have created a device that can produce gourmet-quality hamburgers. While this might not sound like the walking, talking robot of your dreams, it?s an important tool that could represent a potential industry disruption. The machine is capable of completing about 360 hamburgers each hour, and it can grill them to order from freshly ground meat.
How could this machine be an industry disruptor? Many discussions of raising the minimum wage center around the idea that wage increases will lead to more automation, and one industry ripe for automation is the food industry. Companies like McDonalds employ millions of people in the U.S., and spend many more millions in wages. Though a robot would be more expensive upfront, robots never call in sick, demand pay increases, or have slow days. The current total cost for burger production in the U.S. is $9 billion — and Momentum Machines? potential impact could be larger than just burgers alone.
For his own part, co-founder Alexandros Vardakostas isn?t very bashful about what the company is aiming for. ?Our device isn?t meant to make employees more efficient,? he said. ?It?s meant to completely obviate them.? By his own estimate, the machines will pay for themselves in roughly a year.
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If this happened — what would happen to the roughly 1.8 million Americans employed at McDonald?s across the country — or at similar fast food and restaurant locations? It?s possible that robots could prove to shift the labor market and increase the number of people declaring unemployment benefits.
On the other hand, there have been several major industrial disruptions throughout history. The car, for example, took away all the jobs traditionally supported by the horse carriage industry — anyone employed at a stable was out of a job pretty quickly. The reality is, though, that industry disruption shifts where jobs are, rather than eliminating them. Improved automation at McDonald?s could allow the company to explore more personalized options for consumers without increasing price or decreasing quality. Without these jumps in industry, we would never have developed tools like torque sensors or load cells — which now help us build our necessary infrastructure.
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