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Spyce restaurant in Boston is run by robots developed by MIT grads

Posted at 11:16 AM, May 25, 2018
and last updated 2018-05-25 14:16:55-04

BOSTON, Massachusetts — Just a few years ago, Michael Farid was a mechanical engineering student, trying to build a powered skateboard that could be controlled with body weight, similar to a Segway.

But that didn’t pan out.

As Farid recalls, he and his three business partners—all MIT grads—dabbled with various ideas (and even some prototypes) before they said to themselves, “Hey, let’s build a robot that can cook food!”

“It started more as an engineering project,” Farid said. “Then over the course of time we evaluated what business model might work for this and what might not work for this. Basically we decided that starting a restaurant was the best way to derive as much value as we could from it.”

Thus Spyce was born.

“We were in school. We had a hard time finding a healthy delicious meal for anything cheaper than say $10 or $12, and we were studying robotics…so naturally this is what we came up with.”

Situated in the heart of downtown Boston, Spyce is turning heads; lunch rush customers have lined up out the door. The main attraction is its seven rotating robotic woks, heated via induction, that cook meals all on their own.

Farid, Spyce’s co-founder and CEO, knows customers may come in for the novelty, but he hopes they stay for the cuisine.

The menu consists of various types of international cuisine; some of the menu items include the “Thai Bowl,” the “Latin Bowl” and an “Indian bowl.”

Executive chef Sam Benson — under the guidance of world renowned chef with several Michelin stars to his name Daniel Boulud — worked to create a menu that reminded him of his upbringing in New York.

“Every cuisine you can imagine is there in New York City,” Benson said. “That’s something I wanted.”

As to the difficulties a chef is faced with when asking a robot to do his or her work?

“It was a challenge,” Benson said. “[For example,] dispensing kale so it was perfect…making sure the ingredients were handled correctly. We are working with a tool and technology that hasn’t been invented yet. So it’s like ‘OK, here’s the chef, here’s the Spyce robotic kitchen, let's merge these two, hospitality and technology.”

Customers order at a kiosk, and almost immediately they’ll see their name appear on a digital monitor positioned above the robotic wok that will start cooking their order.

Ingredients are stored in refrigerated bins behind the woks, and a device they call a “runner” moves back and forth collecting various grains, vegetables and sauces to dispense. The menu offers items with chicken, but they say that “for food safety reasons” their chicken is pre-cooked at a commissary off site. 

Meals take roughly 2-and-a-half minutes to cook, and once finished the robotic wok tips over—by itself, of course—and pours the finished entrée into a bowl.  The only time a human interacts with the food is when an employee adds any garnishes that a customer has selected. That person then puts a lid on the bowl and affixes a pre-printed sticker with the customer’s name.

Farid acknowledges the fact that a restaurant concept like this does employ fewer people, but he says it’s a trade-off for efficiency and quality food that costs less. (Each bowl costs $7.50)

“Definitely the goal was not to eliminate people from the process,” Farid said. “The goal was to deliver a really great delicious, exciting bowl at a more affordable price point that’s accessible to people at a lot of income levels.”

He demurs when asked if their concept is the future of restaurants—“it’s a little early to say”—but they aren’t shy about their desires to expand.

“We see ourselves primarily as a restaurant company first and tech company second. We would love to serve more people by opening a bunch more restaurants.”