A Silicon Valley-based startup wants to take a slice out of the nearly $40 billion pizza industry in the most Silicon Valley-way possible — using robots to make its pies.
Zume Pizza, founded in 2015, set out to make better pizza faster by streamlining the process through technology. Robots use artificial intelligence to accept orders and prepare pizzas to buyers’ exact specifications. And if customers live far enough away that the pizza could get cold before it’s delivered, a new high-tech delivery truck cooks the pies en route.
Business Insider recently toured Zume’s kitchen in Mountain View, California, to see how it all comes together. Take a look.
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 mogul Danny Meyer, and helped launch New York City restaurant 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 as little as 15 minutes. There's no front of house -- just delivery.
The back room at the Zume Pizza headquarters, which is capable of churning out 288 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.
The machines don't complete pies start to finish yet. Collins explains that Zume and ABB Robotics prioritised automating the parts of the pizza-making process that humans are bad at, like spreading sauce evenly. Collins expects Zume to reach 80% automation by March of 2017.
Customers order their pizzas online or using the Zume Pizza mobile app. The robot's AI then sends instructions to Zume's automated conveyor belt.
To make the pizza, a human stretches and shapes the dough, which Zume lets rise for 48 hours for a lighter, spongier texture. The long fermentation process makes it easier to digest, Collins says.
The first stop on the conveyor belt is one of the sauce dispensers, named Jojo and Pepe. They release different amounts of sauce depending 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, because as Collins puts it, 'humans are good at doing toppings already.'
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.
The oven cooks the pizza at 800 degrees, a temperature that allows pockets of gas in the dough to expand and release -- giving the crust a nice lift.
(image url='http://static.businessinsider.com/image/57ed3235077dcc5e1a8b7e4d/image.gif' alt='Zume pizza robot arm' link='lightbox' size='primary' align='center' nocrop='true' clear='true' jpg='http://static.businessinsider.com/image/57ed3235077dcc5e1a8b7e4d-1200/image.jpg')
A human slides it 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 feeds about three people and costs between $15 and $19, including delivery. For comparison, a large pizza from Domino's, which also stretches 14 inches and feeds about three, costs $14.99.
Zume currently shaves at least 10 minutes off Domino's 30-minutes-or-less delivery promise. Collins says the company hopes to bring delivery times down to just five minutes next year.
Next, a human packages the pie into a container that looks like it could be part of Elon Musk's vision for pizza restaurants on Mars. The boxes are 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.
Until recently, cooked pizzas were all packed into a car and sent to their respective destinations. But this week, Zume debuted a new delivery truck.
Zume retrofitted a truck to hold two racks of ovens, 56 in total. If an order comes from a location more than 12 minutes' drive from Zume's kitchen, the pie will be loaded into an oven unboxed.
Deliveries within a 12 -minute drive of Zume's central hub will continue to be delivered by car.
As the truck nears the customer's address, a GPS 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.
I couldn't leave Zume without trying the pizza. I went with the popular El Camino, which includes mozzarella, pepperoni, cremini mushrooms, and poblano peppers. It costs $15.
The crust is thin, even by east coast standards. I was disappointed by the way the slice flopped under its own weight. The dough's flavour disappeared under the toppings.
But, oh, what toppings. Thin-sliced pepperoni crunched with each bite, while the the mushrooms and peppers burst with juiciness. The cheese pulled apart like bubble-gum.
NOW WATCH: Tech Insider videos
Business Insider Emails & Alerts
Site highlights each day to your inbox.