The days of baristas, waiters and even chefs may be numbered.

Automated food machines are going far beyond dispensing cans of cola, hot drinks and packets of crisps. Now you can buy chips, pizzas and burritos cooked fresh – not to mention sushi rolled by robots.

Hot food at the press of a button

Let’s Pizza made headlines when it released the first pizza vending machine a few years ago. Not only does the machine serve freshly cooked pizzas at the touch of the button, it also starts from scratch – combining water and flour to create the dough, before kneading, rolling, topping and cooking. And the whole process takes just three minutes.

There may only be a solitary Let’s Pizza in the UK currently (on Great Cambridge Road in London, if you fancy one), but there are already imitators popping up all over Europe and the US.

Apart from speed and convenience, automated pizza machines are also more hygienic, since no human hands touch the ingredients.

It’s not just pizzas that are available at the touch of a button, the Burritobox is offering a similar service with the classic Mexican wrap in America, while hot chip vending machines are being rolled out across Australia.

Rolling with the times

Thanks to advances in robotics and automation, companies are also looking to use technology for more complex food preparation.

Fresh from Japan, a country famous for both robotics and fine cuisine, is the Suzumo SushiBot, a range of machines that can roll and prepare sushi in a fraction of the time that it takes even the most well-trained sushi chefs.

One Suzumo SushiBot, for example, can roll 3,600 oblong rice pieces an hour, while another produces 300 medium sushi rolls in the same period.

The end of humanity in the service industry?

The advantages of food automation are obvious: speed, cost-efficiency, hygiene, convenience and space.

However, it is important to note that, apart from Let’s Pizza, which cooks from scratch, the majority of hot food vending machines are still simply heating up frozen food – Burritobox and Hot Chips (the Australian chip venders) included.

At the moment, food automation machines remain a novelty, rather than a viable alternative to human chefs. Until products perfect cooking from scratch, customers are more likely to choose the fresh alternative than punch buttons.

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