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Chipotle is testing a robotic makeline that builds salads and bowls

Chipotle is testing a robotic makeline that builds salads and bowls

Chipotle Mexican Grill is collaborating with a Bay Area robotics company called Hyphen on a “digital makeline” to build salads and bowls.

The invention is called a collaborative robot — also cobot or cobotic system — according to a news release. It is being tested at the Chipotle Cultivate Center, a test kitchen in Irvine, according to the restaurant chain.

About 65% of Chipotle orders are for bowls or salads, the news release said. Digital orders for those items would be routed to the cobot, freeing up staff members to build burritos, tacos and quesadillas.

A 30-second video shows the cobot in action. It cradles a bowl and runs it along an assembly line while ingredients such as rice and corn kernels pour out. A human assembles and wraps a burrito on the countertop in the same amount of time. The filled bowl rises to counter level at the end.

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Chipotle has been pursuing robotic solutions to repetitive tasks in recent years, testing a chip-making machine from Pasadena-based Miso Robotics and a machine that skins avocados from El Segundo-based company Vebu.

Chipotle has invested in Hyphen, based in San Jose, through its Cultivate Next venture fund.

Chipotle is not the only Mexican food chain flirting with technology. Del Taco, its neighbor in Lake Forest, has been quietly using a chatbot to assist in drive-thru orders at select locations, including one in Riverside. The artificial intelligence solution is called Presto Voice.