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NRF 2018: Burger chain with AI, robotics and facial recognition on the side

Restaurant chain CaliBurger is set to roll out kiosks using facial recognition to speed up the signing in of customers to its loyalty programme, assist self-service ordering, and enable payments.

This forms part of an array of cutting-edge technologies the business is employing, which includes robotic arms and artificial intelligence which automate the cooking of burgers, and that will also over time include the preparing and cutting of the vegetables and frying of the fries.

John Miller, CEO of Cali Group – which includes the 50 global outlets of CaliBurger – was demonstrating the new facial recognition kiosks at NRF in NYC with NEC who have developed the NEOFace facial recognition software that identifies customers as they approach the kiosk and automatically displays their loyalty account and preferences.

“It enables a five to 10 second reduction in ordering times at the kiosk, which builds up over the course of a day, as well as reducing labour costs, and helps with data acquisition,” he says.

There is also the ability to gain basic demographic information from the visual data - initially this is sex and estimating age but over time as the AI comes fully into play then more advanced data points will be possible such as expressions. Whether a customer is happy or sad will determine the content that is displayed on the kiosk.

The use of AI on visual images is also at play within the robotics developments taking place at CaliBurger, according to Miller, where its ‘Flippy’ robot uses AI and cameras to determine the actions of the robotic arm as it flips burgers on the grill.

“We’re linking the robotic arm with AI and visuals to constantly adjust the movements of the robot depending on the position of the patty and how quickly it is cooking,” he explained.

“We’ve done two years of training with it at the Pasadena store. Now it is trained we are ready to roll it out across the restaurants, and to also automate the frying and chopping of veg in the future. In fact any repetitive process could be automated this way,” says Miller. 

Data predictions

AI is likely to play an even bigger role in the CaliBurger chain as he reveals that another project involves predicting volumes of customers at the restaurants based on factors such as the weather and other data points. “If we can do these predictions then we can schedule the labour and be more efficient. We’ll have a smart system to grab the data and give the manager the visibility of the results,” he explains.

Miller also reveals further plans to use visual data, through CCTV cameras, which could be utilised to identify things like dirty tables and other compliance type issues: “We could monitor the restaurant’s operations by cameras and train the system to see [specific situations] and alert us when things go wrong.”

Social gaming is also an area of development, with Miller suggesting the cameras could be used to reward customers for doing certain activities within the restaurant once they have initially been recognised by the kiosk’s facial recognition software.

As well as being used within the CaliBurger restaurants Miller says the software will be made available to other hospitality operators: “With the AI-based solutions, we will be selling the brain, once it has been trained.”