Afternoon at Lemnos Labs (2 of 2): Momentum Machines

A continuation of my earlier post on the afternoon I spent at Lemnos Labs, a hardware incubator in SOMA.

Momentum Machines

While hanging out at Lemnos, Jeremy and Matt introduced me to Alexandros Vardakostas and Lucas Lincoln, President and CTO, respectively, of Momentum Machines. The company is relatively stealth, and the website reveals little except the basic philosophy: “Momentum Machines Company is about the new industrial revolution. It is about clever applications of technology to free us from unpleasant labor. Our unique and carefully crafted commercial robotic devices are designed to maximize efficiency by minimizing consumer facing businesses’ labor and overhead costs, while providing higher quality, speed, & precision.”

Momentum Machines team at work

So how does this relate to food? The food preparation industry is one that is ripe with “unpleasant labor.” And Momentum is initially targeting one specific food-related task which occurs all over the world: hamburger assembly. They’ve built a robotic machine which can assemble hamburgers rapidly, consistently, and with a great degree of customization.

An intriguing question the founding team has regards consumer reaction. How will customers feel about a robot assembling their burgers? What role does their product play given the foodie/handmade/locally-crafted zeitgeist that’s intoxicated the Bay Area and other parts of the world? Is there an inherent contradiction? I actually feel pretty strongly that the answer is no. Here’s why:

The product will dramatically reduce labor costs, giving smaller burger joints a chance to be cost-competitive if they choose to source organic and grass-fed beef and organic condiments. The machine also enables restaurants to use whole ingredients without dramatically increasing costs. For example, a meat grinder is an easy add-on which would enable users to bypass the frozen additive-laden patties that are so ubiquitous in favor of actual 100% beef from a single animal. We talked about making the machine physically transparent so that customers can actually see the whole foods get ground, chopped and assembled into their meal (just how everyone loves watching In-N-Out employees make french fries out of real potatoes…) If the goal of the foodie movement to connect customers to their food, I see a ton of alignment.

While it’s unclear at this point if the company will adopt the sustainable ingredient angle that I’d love to see, there’s no denying this product will enable restaurateurs to pursue quality at a competitive price point. Imagine the implications of an organic hamburger chain serving marginalized consumers at a competitive price in communities that previously only had a McDonald’s? While a burger is still a burger, a burger made from all-natural whole ingredients is a vast improvement over the heavily-processed fast food product that contains, on average, meat from “a thousand or more cattle from as many as five different countries,” according to Eric Schlosser.

Although consumer reaction is important, the main focus of the Momentum team is identifying their target market. Alex, Momentum’s President, explains, “determining our target market is our main problem right now and we’re excited to implement a true tech startup’s take on the QSR industry. A lot of industries were disrupted by tech startups and we hope to be an example of that.” I’m excited to hear more from this innovative team.

About Michelle Paratore

Management consultant obsessed with food justice, food politics, food start-ups, food sustainability, and eating food too...
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7 Responses to Afternoon at Lemnos Labs (2 of 2): Momentum Machines

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