Vincenzo is a tall, gangly robot that works in the kitchen at Zume Pizza, a Silicon Valley-based pizza startup that delivers to Mountain View, California (home of the Googleplex).
From 11 a.m. to 10 p.m., Vincenzo uses his mechanical limb and tray to sweep uncooked pies off the conveyor belt and lift them to the oven door. It’s a pretty cool sight to see.
Vincenzo has yet to mess up a customer’s order. He’s never spit on a customer’s pizza or taken an extra minute because he was checking Facebook. He’s (it’s?) a robot.
Robots like the ones working in Zume Pizza’s kitchen are coming for fast food workers’ jobs in the next few years. Some restaurants, including San Francisco’s modern automat Eatsa and the upcoming Momentum Machines storefront (where a robot cranks out 400 hamburgers an hour), are turning to automation so they can fill orders quickly and accurately.
Zume leads by example for those who are fearful of the robot revolution, applying automation in conjunction with human work.
“We’re a co-bot environment,” Julia Collins, cofounder and co-CEO of Zume Pizza, says of the worklplace. Humans and robots work together, rather than try to replace each other.
Collins and her business partner, Alex Garden, teamed up with industrial robotics company ABB Robotics to develop a Rube Goldberg-like contraption that is capable of churning out 288 pizzas an hour. But the machines don’t complete pies start to finish yet.
Zume and ABB Robotics prioritised automating the parts of the pizza-making process that humans are bad at, like spreading sauce evenly or removing uncooked pies from a pizza peel. The company expects to reach full automation by March of 2017.
When that happens, Zume says the transition will free up pizza chefs to learn new skills and take on different roles in technical support, engineering, or web design.
Zume isn’t the only company putting robots to work.
In 2012, robotics startup Momentum Machines debuted a fully autonomous robot that can can slice toppings, grill a patty, and assemble and bag the burger. It allows every part of the burger to be customised, without any help from humans. Tech Insider reported in June that the company appeared to be opening a storefront this fall.
Like Zume, the company thinks its can actually promote job growth by letting robots fill in for humans in the kitchen. Momentum Machines may, for example, have to hire new employees to grow their technology and to staff new restaurant locations.
San Franciscans, at least, are already warming up to the idea of a restaurant experience with minimal human interactions. In 2015, an automated vegetarian food chain called Eatsa opened, The restaurant, which specialises in quinoa bowls, uses tablets to automate the ordering process. Food is delivered through a cubby in the wall, but chefs prepare food behind the scenes.
Zume aims to serve all of the Bay Area with new kitchen hubs by 2018. The company currently employs about 30 people on its kitchen and delivery teams, and Collins promises no one will lose their job to a robot.
“Since the industrial revolution, the American workforce has been adapting to the advent of new technologies,” Collins says. “The important thing is — for those who’ve chosen to be at the leading edge of automation, as we have — how can we think responsibly about our obligation to the people that come work for us?”
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