Robots could kill off huge swaths of jobs in the future — but at least they come bearing pizza.
Founded in 2015, Zume Pizza uses robotics and artificial intelligence to make pizza more quickly. Machines press mounds of dough, squirt and spread sauce, and lift pizzas in and out of the oven, in a fraction of the time it would take human workers to do the same.
Zume Pizza has raised about $US48 million ($AU62 million) in a new Series B round of funding, which was first reported by CNBC. The company delivers only in Silicon Valley, but the cash infusion should help Zume Pizza reach its goal of serving the entire Bay Area by the end of 2018.
An increasing number of pizza eaters are ditching legacy brands like Domino’s and Pizza Hut for newer fast-casual and delivery chains. Business Insider took a tour of Zume’s headquarters in Mountain View, California, to see if the pizza is as good as its tech.
The concept of a robot-powered pizza delivery service came from friends and cofounders Julia Collins and Alex Garden, who wanted to make high-quality pizza more affordable.
Collins graduated from Stanford Business School, worked as an analyst under Shake Shack founder Danny Meyer, and helped launch New York City fast-casual chain Mexicue. She knew pumping pies full of chemical adulterants wasn't the answer -- tech was.
By automating the kitchen, the Zume team can fill orders quickly and accurately, and reduce delivery times to five to 20 minutes. There's no front of house, just delivery.
The back room at the Zume Pizza headquarters, which is capable of churning out about 370 pizzas an hour, looks more like a manufacturing plant than a restaurant kitchen.
Collins and Garden, the ex-president of gaming company Zynga, partnered with industrial robots provider ABB Robotics to develop this Rube Goldberg-looking contraption.
Customers order their pizzas online or using the Zume Pizza mobile app. A software algorithm sends the instructions to Zume's automated, pizza-making conveyor belt.
When we visited in September, a human stretched and shaped the dough, which Zume lets rise for 48 hours for a lighter, spongier texture. But a human is no longer necessary.
The newly added Doughbot can press any ball of dough into a pizza crust in nine seconds.
The pizza crust slides down the conveyor belt and lands under one of two sauce dispensers, named Giorgio and Pepe. They release different amounts based on the customer's order.
The pizza continues down the line to meet Marta, the sauce-spreading robot with arms like spider legs. She distributes sauce, made from locally grown tomatoes, in seconds.
A human dresses the pie with cheeses and toppings. It's a difficult part of the process to automate because toppings come in different weights, sizes, and textures.
At the end of the conveyor belt, a tall, gangly robot named Vincenzo sweeps the pizza onto a rack and raises it to the oven door.
The oven cooks the pizza for about a minute at a high temperature of 800 degrees, which allows pockets of gas in the dough to expand and release and gives the crust bounce.
A human slides the pizza into Zume's proprietary, self-cleaning pizza slicer, which crops the pie into eight perfectly proportioned slices. Each slice is about 180 calories.
Each 14-inch pizza costs between $US10 and $US20, including delivery. By comparison, a large cheese pizza from Domino's, which also stretches 14 inches, starts at $US15.99 and the price goes up with toppings. It adds a delivery fee between $US1.50 and $US3, and tips are encouraged.
Zume's website says, 'We are a no-tipping business. Hospitality is included in our pricing.'
A human packages the order in an untraditional pizza delivery box, made from sustainably farmed sugarcane fibre, which is recyclable and compostable.
The bottom of the container has sloped ridges and a recess in the center that force liquids to pool where they won't touch pizza and make it soggy in transit.
It's retrofitted to hold 56 ovens. If an order comes from a location more than 12 minutes from Zume's kitchen, the pizza will be loaded into an oven partly cooked and unboxed.
Deliveries within a 12-minute drive of Zume's central hub are delivered by scooter or car.
As the truck nears the customer's address, a software algorithm prompts the oven holding that pizza to bake it for an additional three and a half minutes. Once parked, the driver removes the pizza from the oven, cuts it using Zume's slicer, and delivers it to the door.
Collins said the company has collected so much valuable customer data since its delivery launch last fall, it can 'predict what pizza you want before you even order it.'
Collins told Business Insider earlier this year that people tend to order pizza on the same day of the week around the same time, and have it delivered to the same location. Orders are ritual.
Zume can predict a density of orders in any given area. It loads up the delivery trucks with the pizzas it thinks customers will want and sends them to that area in anticipation. This technology increases efficiency and allows Zume to make deliveries in as little as five minutes.