On June 27, the world’s first robot-crafted burger will roll off a conveyor belt in San Francisco and into the hands of the public. You could call it the freshest burger on Earth.
The product, from Bay Area-based Creator, a culinary robotics company, is assembled and cooked in a machine that contains 20 computers, 350 sensors, and 50 actuator mechanisms. It does everything from slicing and toasting the brioche bun to adding toppings (to order) and seasoning and cooking the patties, all in five minutes. The meat is ground to order — why it’s touted as so fresh-and sourced from premium ingredients. It emerges from the machine piled with tomatoes and lettuce, sprinkled with seasonings and drizzled with sauces, at which point it’s transferred by human hands to the customer. The price: $6.
Formerly known as Momentum Machines, Creator was founded by entrepreneur Alex Vardakostas in 2012. The 33-year-old has assembled an Avengers-like superteam of engineers, designers and roboticists from Apple, Tesla, NASA and Walt Disney Imagineering R&D. The team also includes alumni from elite restaurants, such as Chez Panisse, Momofuku and SingleThread.
“June 27 is a big day,” says Vardakostas. “When I started this process eight years ago, there wasn’t the inevitability that this would happen with food. Now not only is it inevitable, but it also produces a much higher quality product.”
I went to the Creator storefront, in San Francisco’s South of Market neighborhood, to sample the four burgers that will be on offer when the place opens and decide whether Creator burgers deserve to be as ubiquitous as driverless cars.
The 2,200-square-foot Creator space is spare and clean, with white-tiled walls, a poured concrete floor, and light ash wood accents. (Per Salvaag, a lead designer for BMW, consulted on the space.) It looks more like a salad bowl spot than a burger place, with only a discreet scent of griddled meat to set it apart. Even the prep stations that ready accompaniments such as skin-cut fries and seasonal grain salad are hidden behind large glass-walled refrigerators showing off the principal ingredients. Instead of a counter, the glass-walled machine is front and centre. Within are a series of oversize vertical tubes with stacks of tomatoes, onions, pickles, and so on. Lanes of brioche buns are positioned overhead. “I consider this to be the most transparent restaurant,” says Vardakostas. The one part of the burger-making process that customers won’t see is the grinding and cooking of the burger. “There was a hesitation about seeing meat being ground,” he adds.
The only workers you’ll see around the machine, apart from the odd employee replacing ingredients, are “concierges” at the front of the contraption to take orders and payment and a few at the end to serve the burgers.