The kitchen at Zume Pizza looks more like a manufacturing plant than the back room of a restaurant. Robots with swinging appendages dress up pizza crusts with marinara sauce made from locally grown tomatoes and toppings as the pies make their way down the conveyor belt.
“We’re a co-bot environment,” says Julia Collins, cofounder and co-CEO of Zume Pizza.
At the Mountain View, California-based delivery startup, pizza-making robots and humans work together to make better pizza faster. By automating the kitchen, the Zume team claims they can fill orders quickly and accurately, and reduce delivery times to as little as 15 minutes.
While some humans are worried (for good reason) that robots will take away food industry jobs, Collins says critics can rest assured: No one who works at Zume risks being booted from work by robots.
“That is absolutely a promise that we make to our employees,” Collins tells Business Insider.
The kitchen at Zume, a delivery-only startup, is capable of churning out 288 pizzas an hour. But the bots can’t do it alone — yet. Collins explains that Zume prioritised automating the parts of the pizza-making process that humans are bad at, like spreading sauce evenly or taking pizza dough off a wooden pallet. The company expects to reach full automation by March 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.
“What we want to do is actually let people have the opportunity to keep growing. I think where the fast food industry falls short is exactly that,” Collins says. “It’s not typical for somebody to be able to start at a fast food restaurant and get sponsorship to go to a coding academy.”
Zume will also provide tuition subsidies for employees who want to take an English as a second language course (so they can work in hardware support) or attend graphic design school (so they can join the user-experience and user-interface web design team).
The company aims to serve all of the Bay Area with new kitchen hubs by 2018.
Collins says Zume timed the opening of their next kitchen, in San Jose, California, to coincide with the build-out of full automation of Zume’s flagship location. When the robots take over spreading sauce, for example, line cooks will be able to transfer to San Jose.
Zume currently employs about 30 people on its kitchen and delivery teams.
“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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