Ecolab is making a bet that automation will be a growing market in fast food restaurants.
The St. Paul-based maker of sanitation products is now an investor in Miso Robotics, a company that makes robots for fast-food restaurants.
At a time when fast-food restaurants across the country are having trouble fully staffing their operations, the companies say the Miso robots are designed to alleviate the workload in the kitchens by taking over some of the most repetitive tasks such as managing beverages.
Miso's signature product is Flippy, an autonomous robotic kitchen assistant that makes French fries and other fried items.
Miso already has raised over $40 million, mostly from crowdfunding. While Ecolab would not say how much it invested, the companies said the funds — and Ecolab's long history providing cleaning and sanitation products to the hospitality industry — will help Miso compete with other startup companies in the field.
Some of Ecolab's products are incorporated into automation as well.
"Our deep knowledge of these customers, including how they supply, operate and clean their kitchens, will be something we leverage with Miso Robotics in development discussions," said Ross Skadsberg, vice president of strategy and business development at Ecolab. "Working together, we can help unlock the labor challenge in food service."
Restaurants often work with cramped kitchens, and Flippy was designed to be space efficient and modular enough to accommodate up to five fryers with single or double hoppers, according to Miso. A robotic arm can fill, lift and empty the hoppers.
Sensors, software and hardware work in concert to efficiently deliver consistent results.