Chipotle employee removes sliced avocados from 'Autocado'
CNN  — 

Your Chipotle guacamole may soon be prepared by a robot.

Meet “Autocado,” a Chipotle robot designed to perform the more tedious tasks of creating the chain’s guacamole, including cutting, coring and peeling avocados. With the robot prototype — which frankly looks more like a boxy silver refrigerator than a humanoid — Chipotle joins the growing ranks of fast-food companies looking to robotic technology to trim costs.

For Chipotle (CMG), the decision to automate this back-of-house task comes at a time of labor shortages in the restaurant industry, with US restaurant and accommodations job openings standing at 1.2 million in May. Pre-pandemic, the number of job openings in the industry only surpassed 1 million once in the last 20 years. But Chipotle (CMG) said this “collaborative robot” will not eliminate jobs, but, instead, employees will work with the robot to speed up guacamole production.

An employee will still mash the avocados with other ingredients such as salt, lime juice and jalapenos to create the guacamole’s creamy consistency.

“It’s essential for us to maintain the experience of and preparing the guacamole to our exact standards,” Curt Garner, Chief Customer and Technology Officer at Chipotle said. “The device was designed specifically for Chipotle with the goal of easing identified pain points for restaurant employees.”

Patrick T. Fallon/Bloomberg/Getty Images
Guacamole and tortilla chips are arranged for a photograph at a Chipotle Mexican Grill Inc. restaurant in El Segundo, California, U.S., on Wednesday, July 25, 2018.

Preparing a batch of guacamole takes just under an hour, but the Autocado has the potential to cut this time in half, saving the fast casual Mexican food chain millions in annual food costs if successful, according to the company.

These shifts are representative of a larger trend toward automating tasks in restaurants. Hamburger-chain White Castle implemented a robot called Flippy 2 that takes over the restaurant’s entire fry station. And restaurants are introducing artificial intelligence drive thrus across the country.

To use the Autocado, an employee loads up to 25 pounds of avocados into it. The fruit is then sliced in half, the cores and skins are removed, and the sliced and peeled avocados are collected into a bowl. (Yes, it’s a fruit.)

Chipotle purchases over 100 million pounds of avocados each year, the company said.

Automated avocado peeling machines already exist. But Autocado is specifically designed for Chipotle’s needs and is proprietary, the company said.

For its design, Chipotle partnered with Vebu Labs, a robotics startup in California, to analyze the preparation process at various Chipotle restaurants and identify the most time-consuming tasks for employees.

Chipotle has invested in Vebu as a part of the company’s $50 million venture, Cultivate Next.

Dishwashing robots may be coming next, the company said. And Chipotle is already testing “Chippy,” a robotic kitchen assistant that uses artificial intelligence to make tortilla chips to dip in Autocado’s guacamole.