If you consider yourself a burger connoisseur, you might scoff at the idea of eating one that dispenses from a vending machine. I was a little more than skeptical after learning of the first robot burger vending machine, called RoboBurger, which just opened last week on the second floor of the Newport Centre Mall in Jersey City, New Jersey.
My perception of vending machine food completely changed once I took my first bite. RoboBurger is just the beginning of a revolution in the food industry where meals are prepared using artificially intelligent technology.
Taking up about 12 square feet, the machine's bright-red exterior was what first stood out as I approached it. Patrons in line fawned over the device — and I was just as curious about how the burger would look and taste.
Just like any other vending machine, it simply plugs into a wall socket. The difference is that RoboBurger cooks up restaurant-quality burgers from start to finish, unlike the usual bag of potato chips you’d typically find in a vending machine.
Using a touch screen, customers can choose to add cheese, ketchup and/or mustard to their burger while the robo-chef grills the patty, toasts the bun, assembles and delivers the dish six minutes later, for $6.99. The machine accepts card, Apple Pay and Google Pay.
I wanted the full experience, so I chose to add everything to my burger. After a few simple clicks on the RoboBurger’s screen, it started the process of cooking my meal. Moments later, the surrounding area filled with an aroma that could only be described as a 4th of July barbecue. Co-founder and CEO Audley Wilson told me they can control how much burger scent is released into the air, luring customers in with its tempting fragrance.
RoboBurger was designed to act as a restaurant at the fraction of the size. Inside the machine holds a refrigerator and automated griddle and cleaning system. In between each order, you can clearly hear the RoboBurger’s cleaning systems working their magic on the inside.
According to the company, it is the first hot-food vending machine with a stamp of approval by NSF (National Sanitation Foundation) International, which monitors food and water quality.
"It’s not just convenience — it’s a superior product," Andy Siegal, RoboBurger co-founder and CMO, told me as I eagerly awaited my meal.
Siegal and Wilson stood by observing the RoboBurger and its customers as they tapped the screen with their orders. While still in the soft-launch phase, they explained a team member would monitor the area to ensure the RoboBurger performs correctly, but they expect it will execute on its own without issue in no time.
"I started RoboBurger in my garage 17 years ago, and now there couldn’t be a better time to bring it to life and have everyone experience it," Wilson said in a press release. "RoboBurger gives everyone freshly grilled, delicious burgers — while ensuring a safe, contactless experience. RoboBurger always comes out piping hot and is never pre-cooked and kept warm."
RoboBurger can produce two burgers at a time. When the grilling is complete, the burger descends onto the bay where a bun is flipped onto the patty in a classic cardboard box right before your eyes. Once the light turns green, you’re given the all clear to grab your meal.
Upon first bite, I was immediately impressed. Not only was it served up quickly, but it was nice and hot, unlike many burgers that I’ve ordered in the past from fast-food chains. The patty is made of 100% Angus pasture-raised Pat LaFrieda beef, and the robo-chef didn't skimp on the melted cheese (aged Wisconsin cheddar) and condiments. Napkins are definitely a necessity when chomping down on one of these, which, luckily, they provide for you.
RoboBurger enters the market as high-tech robotic innovations seem to be sweeping the restaurant world. Chipotle announced last month it has partnered with Miso Robotics to create a robot named Chippy that will make — you guessed it — tortilla chips.
Artificial intelligence is also becoming increasingly common in restaurant drive-thrus. Chains like Sonic, White Castle and Checkers are turning to robots to take orders and flip patties. The Beijing Winter Olympics even utilized robots to serve food and drinks to reporters.
RoboBurger says it will soon be heading to airports, malls, colleges, offices, factories and military bases across the country. After trying out RoboBurger for myself, I can definitely see it becoming a staple in any high-traffic building. Not only is it efficient and affordable — it actually tastes good, too.