Hungry startup uses robots to grab slice of pizza

September 14, 2016 by Terence Chea
In this Monday, Aug. 29, 2016 photo, co-founder and CEO, Julia Collins, right, chats with employee Jose Lopez as he makes pizza dough at Zume Pizza in Mountain View, Calif. The startup, which began delivery in April, is using intelligent machines to grab a slice of the multi-billion-dollar pizza delivery market. Zume is one of a growing number of food-tech firms seeking to disrupt the restaurant industry with software and robots that let them cut costs, speed production and improve worker safety. (AP Photo/Marcio Jose Sanchez)

Did robots help make your pizza?

If you ordered it from Silicon Valley's Zume Pizza, the answer is yes.

The startup, which began delivery in April, is using intelligent machines to grab a slice of the multibillion-dollar pizza delivery market.

Zume is one of a growing number of food-tech firms seeking to disrupt the restaurant industry with software and robots.

"We're going to eliminate boring, repetitive, dangerous jobs, and we're going to free up people to do things that are higher value," said co-founder Alex Garden, a former Microsoft manager and president of mobile game maker Zynga Studios.

Inside its commercial kitchen in Mountain View, pizza dough travels down a conveyer belt where machines add the sauce, spread it and later carefully slide the uncooked pies into an 800-degree oven.

The startup will soon add robots to prep the dough, add cheese and toppings, take pizzas out of the oven, cut them into slices and box them for delivery.

"We automate those repetitive tasks, so that we can spend more money on higher quality ingredients," said Julia Collins, Zume's CEO and cofounder. "There will always be a model here at Zume where robots and humans work together to create delicious food."

In this Monday, Aug. 29, 2016 photo, Jose Lopez, at left, prepares pizza dough to be place on a conveyor belt and onto an automated sauce dispenser, at right, at Zume Pizza in Mountain View, Calif. The startup, which began delivery in April, is using intelligent machines to grab a slice of the multi-billion-dollar pizza delivery market. Zume is one of a growing number of food-tech firms seeking to disrupt the restaurant industry with software and robots that let them cut costs, speed production and improve worker safety. (AP Photo/Marcio Jose Sanchez)

In Silicon Valley and beyond, tech startups are building robots to help reduce labor costs, speed production and improve safety in the restaurant industry.

San Francisco-based Momentum Machines is building robots to make gourmet hamburgers, and BistroBot, another San Francisco startup, has designed a machine that makes sandwiches while customers watch.

"We're trying to automate some of the stations you might find in restaurants," said co-founder Jay Reppert. "It's quicker, it's cheaper, it's more consistent and it's this really fun experience to share with people."

Robots may be able to produce simple foods such as pizza, burgers and sandwiches, but they won't be taking over restaurants anytime soon because they still struggle with irregular tasks that require , judgment and taste, said Ken Goldberg, who directs the University of California, Berkeley's Automation Lab.

"There are so many jobs in food service that are so complex that it will be a very long time before we have robots doing them," Goldberg said. "I want to reassure restaurant workers that the skills they have are still going to be of value."

In this Monday, Aug. 29, 2016 photo, cook Freedom Carlson, at left, prepares a pizza as it goes through a conveyor belt alongside sous chef Christopher Rongstad, at right, as co-founder and CEO Julia Collins, center, watches at Zume Pizza in Mountain View, Calif. The startup, which began delivery in April, is using intelligent machines to grab a slice of the multi-billion-dollar pizza delivery market. Zume is one of a growing number of food-tech firms seeking to disrupt the restaurant industry with software and robots that let them cut costs, speed production and improve worker safety. (AP Photo/Marcio Jose Sanchez)

Zume's founders say the company doesn't plan to eliminate any of its roughly 50 employees, but move them into new jobs as robots take over more kitchen work and the company opens new locations.

"There's way more work than there's people," Garden said.

Zume also wants to bring innovation to pizza delivery. This fall the startup plans to deploy trucks equipped with 56 ovens that can bake pizzas en route to customers, allowing them to deliver dozens of orders before returning to the kitchen.

The company is trying to shorten delivery times with software to anticipate when and what kind of pizzas customers will order.

Charity Suzuki regularly uses the Zume mobile app to order . She isn't bothered by the robot cooks.

"It's delicious. It's always hot and fresh when it comes," Suzuki said. "I can't tell the difference that it's made by a robot versus a human."

In this Monday, Aug. 29, 2016 photo, a robot places a pizza into an oven at Zume Pizza in Mountain View, Calif. The startup, which began delivery in April, is using intelligent machines to grab a slice of the multi-billion-dollar pizza delivery market. Zume is one of a growing number of food-tech firms seeking to disrupt the restaurant industry with software and robots that let them cut costs, speed production and improve worker safety. (AP Photo/Marcio Jose Sanchez)

In this Monday, Aug. 29, 2016 photo, Noel Lopez, at left, slices a pizza at Zume Pizza in Mountain View, Calif. The startup, which began delivery in April, is using intelligent machines to grab a slice of the multi-billion-dollar pizza delivery market. Zume is one of a growing number of food-tech firms seeking to disrupt the restaurant industry with software and robots that let them cut costs, speed production and improve worker safety. (AP Photo/Marcio Jose Sanchez)
In this Monday, Aug. 29, 2016 photo, CEO and co-founder Julia Collins, left, and co-founder Alex Garden pose for a photo in front of one of the company's delivery trucks at Zume Pizza in Mountain View, Calif. The startup, which began delivery in April, is using intelligent machines to grab a slice of the multi-billion-dollar pizza delivery market. Zume is one of a growing number of food-tech firms seeking to disrupt the restaurant industry with software and robots that let them cut costs, speed production and improve worker safety. (AP Photo/Marcio Jose Sanchez)

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8 comments

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JuanitaBroaddricksUpperLip
Sep 14, 2016
This comment has been removed by a moderator.
mrlewish
not rated yet Sep 14, 2016
I don't get it.. we get frozen or fresh machine made pizza in grocery stores by the billions and this is a news story?
coachv79
not rated yet Sep 14, 2016
When it breaks, what is the contingency plan? Looks nice until something goes wrong.
dadling
3 / 5 (2) Sep 14, 2016
Folks, someone has already done the numbers. It will just take a bit of time. The robots will get faster, better and cost less to work than a human.
Safety will be better because no humans will be involved. Profits increase. It's simple math.
For all those who pushed the $15 minimum wage, here is what you've bought!! The elimination of a lot of former minimum wage jobs....
Let there be no mistake, robots will take over the repetitive jobs once held by people...people that wanted more money and didn't want to move up the chain of society....
It's all over....the bricks are in the oven and the liberal push for more poor people is working.....soon none of them will have jobs and be dependent on government. That's what robots will do for society...
Waaalt
not rated yet Sep 14, 2016
robots will take over the repetitive jobs once held by people


Ironically, this an illogical and distinctly human strategy, coming from our real weakest link, which is hierarchy. It's hierarchy that creates bosses who are too focused on replacing low cost workers or having machines do everything instead of identifying the real cost drivers and bottlenecks.

Most boss work is rule driven, so it's a lot easier than people think to automate it, but the hierarchies can protect themselves with their power over decisions. A machine would not choose to use these machines.

Just look closely at the decisions they are making here. I think what they probably really want to do is sell equipment to pizza shops. Having worked in a pizza shop, the more I look at their innovations here the less sense they make to me. I see overpriced solutions to areas that are not production bottlenecks or cost drivers.
Waaalt
not rated yet Sep 14, 2016
The pizza slicing machine:

It would never be a rational choice. They will probably want to charge a store $500+ just to replace the $2 wheel.

I guarantee that it is not faster either. It already only takes ~5 seconds to cut a pizza with a wheel. It's not a production bottleneck.

A perfect cut every time? No way. Pizza grease (meats and cheeses) temporarily dulls blades. It must either be cleaned most every single time or it will not make clean cuts. Ideally you rinse off the wheel every single time but really no more than after ~3 to 5 pizzas or it will cut terribly, leaving pizzas with slices stuck together or if you really ignore the grease, you start to get messed up pizzas, half cuts and pulling cheese off, etc.
Anon45876
not rated yet Sep 14, 2016

Waaalt said: Just look closely at the decisions they are making here. I think what they probably really want to do is sell equipment to pizza shops. Having worked in a pizza shop, the more I look at their innovations here the less sense they make to me. I see overpriced solutions to areas that are not production bottlenecks or cost drivers.

I say:
Look at it this way. The new $15 minimum wage costs the employer about $30k a year. The robot to replace the worker costs about $30k a year. The people making the decisions are looking at a $30k machine which will get them out from paying that it wages. In a year, it is all free and clear less a bit of electricity and routine maintenance.
Oh, and engineers are smart. They've done their homework on this.
lengould100
not rated yet Sep 15, 2016
Folks, someone has already done the numbers. It will just take a bit of time. The robots will get faster, better and cost less to work than a human.
Safety will be better because no humans will be involved. Profits increase. It's simple math.
For all those who pushed the $15 minimum wage, here is what you've bought!! The elimination of a lot of former minimum wage jobs....
Let there be no mistake, robots will take over the repetitive jobs once held by people...people that wanted more money and didn't want to move up the chain of society....
It's all over....the bricks are in the oven and the liberal push for more poor people is working.....soon none of them will have jobs and be dependent on government. That's what robots will do for society...


So you think handicapped people, people with say ADD who couldn't even make highschool, etc. etc. should, what, apply to Harvard the way you did (LOL )?

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