Aniai, a startup that has built a burger-grilling robot, Alpha Grill, said today it has raised $12 million. The round brings its total raise up to $15 million. The money will go toward launching its first manufacturing facility, Factory One, in South Korea. The firm will also be deploying a cloud-based AI software platform for the robot called Alpha Cloud.

Robot adoption in the restaurant business is becoming popular as it can help restaurants address their high pain points like labor shortages, and rising wage issues. Robotics enables restaurants to save 30% to 70% of labor costs, and restaurants could replace more than 80% of restaurant positions with robots, according to a research report

“Burger chains hire six to eight kitchen staff per shift to grill burgers,” Aniai CEO Gunpil Hwang said. “Alpha Grill enables restaurants to engage only one staff member to grill burgers.”

The New York-headquartered startup says it will launch Factory One this year to meet the growing market demand for Alpha Grill, with around 500 pre-orders for delivery starting in the first quarter of 2024. Its manufacturing facility will be able to produce more than 1,000 robots annually. The company’s double-sided Alpha Grill, launched in 2022, can cook 200 patties per hour, or eight patties simultaneously (after human staff places them on a grill).  

The cloud-based AI software and real-time vision sensor will enable Alpha Grill to perceive the environment, identify the color of patties on a grill and monitor the patties’ temperature, shape and quality. If the user’s patty does not meet its cooking recipes, specifications and requirements, Alpha Grill promptly notifies the cooking staff to ensure quality control. 

The startup is currently developing its second product, Alpha Kitchen, Hwang told TechCrunch. With an expected 2025 launch, Alpha Kitchen will be able to automate the entire burger-making process, from cooking patties and toasting buns to dispensing vegetables and other ingredients.

Aniai currently serves seven customers, including fast-food burger chains in South Korea, CJ Freshway, BAS Burger and DownTowner. It has also been testing Alpha Grill with burger chains in the U.S. since last year. The outfit  says it will also use the latest capital speed up its expansions in the U.S. and South Korea.

Aniai is part of a growing kitchen automation industry. Other companies in this space include Miso Robotics, which is behind Flippy, a burger-flipping robot; Botinkit, a cooking robot maker in China; and Chef Robotics in San Francisco. 

InterVest led the latest funding along with new investors SV Investment, UK’s Ignite Innovation and a previous backer, Capstone Partners.

Founded in 2020, the startup had 30 employees as of December 2023.