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Did robots help make your pizza?
If you ordered it from Silicon Valley's Zume Pizza, the answer is yes.
The California startup began delivery in April. It is using intelligent machines. The company wants to grab a slice of the multibillion-dollar pizza delivery market.
Zume is one of a growing number of food-tech firms. They are seeking to disrupt the restaurant industry. To do it, they plan to use 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. He is a former Microsoft manager. He also was president of mobile game maker Zynga Studios.
Inside its commercial kitchen in Mountain View, pizza dough travels down a conveyer belt. Machines add the sauce. They spread it and 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 and cut them into slices. They will even box them for delivery.
"We automate those repetitive tasks, so that we can spend more money on higher quality ingredients," said Julia Collins. She is 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 Silicon Valley and beyond, tech startups are building robots to help reduce labor costs. The robots speed production and improve safety in the restaurant industry.
San Francisco-based Momentum Machines is building robots. They will make gourmet hamburgers. BistroBot is another San Francisco startup. The company 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. That is because they still struggle with irregular tasks that require fine motor skills, judgment and taste. This is according to Ken Goldberg. He directs the Automation Lab at the University of California in Berkeley.
"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. The skills they have are still going to be of value."
Zume's founders say the company doesn't plan to eliminate any of its roughly 50 employees. The company plans to move them into new jobs. This will occur 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. Each will be equipped with 56 ovens. These can bake pizzas en route to customers. That will allow them to deliver dozens of orders before returning to the kitchen.
The company is trying to shorten delivery times. It plans to use software to anticipate when and what kind of pizzas customers will order.
Charity Suzuki regularly uses the Zume mobile app to order pizza. 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."
CRITICAL THINKING QUESTION
What is the benefit of shortening delivery times?
Write your answers in the comments section below