On Fast-Food Robots and Cyber Security

There’s a new burger-making machine out to compete with the one Momentum Machines released in 2012. It sounds as though this new fast-food robot, which was developed by Miso Robotics and named “Flippy,” is more advanced. The Next Web reports:

The AI-driven robot ‘Flippy,’ by Miso Robotics, is marketed as a kitchen assistant, rather than a replacement [for fast-food cooks] … Flippy features a number of different sensors and cameras to identify food objects on the grill. It knows, for example, that burgers and chicken-like patties cook for a different duration. Once done, the machine expertly lifts the burger off the grill and uses its on-board technology to place it gently on a perfectly-browned bun.

Old-time automat in New York CityMachines like Flippy are the future of the restaurant industry, at least on the fast-food and fast-casual levels. Five-star luxe restaurants will probably always use human chefs to distinguish themselves from places like Wendy’s and Applebee’s. However, it’s important to note that Momentum Machines’ and Miso Robotics’ food-making robots are, in the grand scheme of things, quite simple. They can only handle a couple of different types of food. A robot that can handle the type of complex menus that, say, Wawa and Sheetz offer is still a long way off, perhaps a decade. Those types of menus, with thousands of possible combinations, are combinatorics nightmares. Additionally, there are logistics issues with stocking and cleaning food-making machines while ensuring the food does not spoil. It’s a lot more complex than stocking a soda or a snack machine, or building an ordering touchscreen.

Oh yeah, about those ordering touchscreens/kiosks: They’re a real cyber security risk. ZD Net reports on an old form of point-of-sale (POS) malware that’s resurfaced. Interestingly, rather than adding functionality to the malware, hackers removed some code so that it would pass right through anti-virus filters:

While threats like ransomware have been making headlines lately, point of sales (POS) malware is less reported but still active. It mainly targets retailers and hotel chains, as well as smaller businesses which often have less secure systems.

One of the earliest forms of this type of malware was RawPOS, which has been in operation since 2008. Despite being almost a decade old, RawPOS is still going strong. Cybersecurity researchers at Cylance have recently discovered a new version of it which it said has remained undetected by an unnamed ‘legacy antivirus vendor’ for over a month.

All that it took for this old form of malware to become undetectable was for the developers behind it to remove some of the code. Rather than adding new features, those behind the malware removed code from the new variant, therefore enabling it to avoid the most common signatures for POS malware.

I know that everyone in America is very excited at the notion of fast-food workers getting Das Boot. However, the cyber security of ordering kiosks is a concern for consumers as fast-food outlets automate ordering and, more importantly, payment.

Like healthcare, which took forever to switch from paper records to EHR systems, the fast-food industry has resisted automation for years. Ordering kiosks are not new or innovative. Wawa and Sheetz have had them for well over a decade, although their machines don’t take money; because they’re convenience stores, they want you to walk through the store and grab a bag of chips or a soda on your way to the register. If their ordering screens were to get hacked, consumers won’t suffer (although they could if hackers, once inside those terminals, somehow managed to snake their way to other areas of the system, such as the payment processing system). The fast-food machines will take money. And — like healthcare — the fast-food outlets are bound to automate as quickly and as cheaply as they possibly can.

This has not worked out well for healthcare: It has the dubious distinction of being the most likely industry in America to be hacked.

Automated fast-food outlets are the future, but they are not the panacea everyone thinks they will be.