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Tweaking Gartner's Hype Cycle for Food Robots
Startups need to plan for a viral freakout.
You are probably familiar with the Gartner Hype Cycle, which graphically charts the path to maturation and acceptance that certain technologies take as they come to market. It’s not scientific or perfect, but it is a handy reminder for emerging technology startups that there will be peaks and valleys in public perception as their product goes from the garage to being generally available.
According to Gartner’s Hype Cycle, there is the Technology Trigger, which leads to the Peak of Inflated Expectations, but inevitably faces a backlash in the Trough of Disappointment only to be rediscovered in the Slope of Enlightment before settling in on the Plateau of Productivity.
Simplistic, sure, but we’ve seen it happen, broadly speaking.
With all due respect Gartner though, I feel their hype cycle needs a small adjustment — specifically for food robots and automation and specifically during this particular moment in time. So without their permission, I added the “Viral Freakout” peak in between the Trigger and the Peak (See above).
These viral freakouts are typically video footage of robots posted to social media, which are then followed up with news or commentary about how robots are coming to take away jobs. We saw this a couple months back on a Reddit thread decrying Picnic’s pizza robot. Then at the end of November a video of Bear Robotics’ Servi server robot at Denny’s went viral, only to be followed up last week by a Servi at Chili’s going viral.
The tone of all these freakouts are basically the same: Robots are taking jobs away from people and pretty soon restaurants will all be just a bank of machines that spit out lifeless, mechanized food.
These are knee-jerk reactions, for sure — but they aren’t completely unwarranted. Food robots are still very new and most people haven’t encountered them at a restaurant yet. Food robot startups and restaurants need to do a better job of communicating the implementation of automation and not just springing those robots on unsuspecting patrons.
As I wrote back in October:
Robots are, in large part, about labor savings, and robots will re-shape the job market as we know it (translation: lost jobs). Also, robots are about quantity and are not meant to re-create artisanal, handcrafted restaurant experiences. They are literal machines meant to broaden access to food.
What this Reddit thread shows is that robot startups and restaurants looking to adopt automation need to start communicating better about what pizza and other food robots are for, and that communication needs to happen now.
If there will be fewer entry level positions, be honest about it — and deliver on that promise that robots will lead to better jobs for humans. Also, food robots aren’t meant for every restaurant and chefs aren’t going away (see also: David Chang v. food robots.). There will still be a variety of dining experiences for people to enjoy!
The point here is that viral freakouts are going to happen and robot startups and restaurants need to bake them into their go-to market strategy. Robot startups and restaurants should work together to create materials that explicitly state the value of the robots (less strenuous work for people, better customer service, etc.) so people don’t just see a robot carrying a tray of margaritas.
Robots and restaurants should also get their messaging straight for any follow up news coverage. Be ready, be honest and be clear with your comments. Robots are still kinda sci-fi for most people so also be patient with their initial reactions.
The good news in all of this is that my Viral Freakout adjustment to the Hype Cycle will be short-lived. As robots become more commonplace in restaurants and elsewhere, and as more people get used to seeing them, there will be fewer viral moments. Robots in restaurants and such will just be. Nothing to see here, folks.
Until then, however, don’t freak out over the inevitable viral freakout. Just be ready for it.