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The Strange Fate of Taco Bell's Taco-Making Machine

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As the fast-service food industry continues to look toward automation to streamline order processing and minimize the role human employees play behind the counter, it’s interesting to note that the seasoned beef peddlers at Taco Bell were well ahead of the curve. In the 1990s, the company developed and installed the Taco-Matic, a giant machine that could assemble their classic taco in mere seconds.

According to a Thrillist investigation, the taco chain was experiencing such rapid growth in the ‘90s that executives began looking toward increasing kitchen efficiency. The company’s engineers developed the Automatic Taco Machine (or ATM), a giant, stainless-steel food assembly appliance that could spit out 900 tacos an hour, or one every four seconds. The machine layered on meat, lettuce, tomatoes, and other toppings before depositing it all into a wrapper.

In a patent application, Taco Bell described the process:

A soft tortilla is removable from a stack of tortillas by a vacuum pick-up head and is heated and is inserted between a pair of heated plates where it is compressed and heated. A pusher bar moves downwardly through slots in the heater plates to fold the tortilla and push it onto the conveyor. A hot food dispenser and a cold food dispenser dispense hot and cold food onto the tortilla as it is moved by the conveyor. A hard taco shell is removable from a stack of taco shells by a reciprocably [sic] mounted peeler which separates the bottom taco shell from the stack and supports the stack while the bottom taco shell drops to the conveyor. The conveyor moves the taco shell past the hot and cold food dispensers.

The units were installed in three Southern California Taco Bell locations in 1992. Once they were in operation, the company was surprised to find it had inadvertently traded efficiency for consumer satisfaction. The tacos spit out by the machine seemed to combine the ingredients in a way that customers didn’t like. There was something “off” about the taste that was vaguely defined but unacceptable. Taco satisfaction levels plummeted.

Taco Bell was also dismayed to learn that there was no quick fix for the machines breaking down, a problem that could virtually stall a location’s supply until it was repaired. The company halted plans for a taco robot revolution. Today, only one machine remains in a storage room at their corporate headquarters in Irvine, California.

[h/t Thrillist]

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Space
Can’t See the Eclipse in Person? Watch NASA’s 360° Live Stream
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Ian Hitchcock/Getty Images

Depending on where you live, the historic eclipse on August 21 might not look all that impressive from your vantage point. You may be far away from the path of totality, or stuck with heartbreakingly cloudy weather. Maybe you forgot to get your eclipse glasses before they sold out, or can't get away from your desk in the middle of the day.

But fear not. NASA has you covered. The space agency is live streaming a spectacular 4K-resolution 360° live video of the celestial phenomenon on Facebook. The livestream started at 12 p.m. Eastern Time and includes commentary from NASA experts based in South Carolina. It will run until about 4:15 ET.

You can watch it below, on NASA's Facebook page, or on the Facebook video app.

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Art
Cephalopod Fossil Sketch in Australia Can Be Seen From Space

Australia is home to some of the most singular creatures alive today, but a new piece of outdoor art pays homage to an organism that last inhabited the continent 65 million years ago. As the Townsville Bulletin reports, an etching of a prehistoric ammonite has appeared in a barren field in Queensland.

Ammonites are the ancestors of the cephalopods that currently populate the world’s oceans. They had sharp beaks, dexterous tentacles, and spiraling shells that could grow more than 3 feet in diameter. The inland sea where the ammonites once thrived has since dried up, leaving only fossils as evidence of their existence. The newly plowed dirt mural acts as a larger-than-life reminder of the ancient animals.

To make a drawing big enough to be seen from space, mathematician David Kennedy plotted the image into a path consisting of more than 600 “way points.” Then, using a former War World II airfield as his canvas, the property’s owner Rob Ievers plowed the massive 1230-foot-by-820-foot artwork into the ground with his tractor.

The project was funded by Soil Science Australia, an organization that uses soil art to raise awareness of the importance of farming. The sketch doubles as a paleotourist attraction for the local area, which is home to Australia's "dinosaur trail" of museums and other fossil-related attractions. But to see the craftsmanship in all its glory, visitors will need to find a way to view it from above.

[h/t Townsville Bulletin]

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