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Silicon Valley can't stop innovating around pizza

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Can't stop, won't stop


Entrepreneurs in Silicon Valley can't sleep. You see, they have a problem on their hands, and it's circular and saucy and requires an inordinate amount of human labor to produce. That means inefficiency, which is the enemy of overwrought Medium posts everywhere. It is known by everyday consumers as the pizza, and some tech industry hopefuls think they should be made by robots instead.

One such startup, called Zume and based in Mountain View, CA, has built up a robot pizza-making operation that is quite sophisticated. The process, detailed in a Bloomberg report today, isn't fully automated, but it is close. A human preps the dough, and uses a massive machine to flatten it out. On a conveyor belt, a robot spits out sauce, while another spreads it in a perfect circle.

A couple more human laborers put on the cheese and toppings before a final robotic arm loads the uncooked slab into a metal tray. The real catch: the pizzas aren't cooked on-site. Instead, a Zume driver heats them in a series of ovens built into the delivery truck, while the driver is en route to the first delivery. There's even a nifty pizza cutter:

Alex Garden, the co-founder and executive chairman of Zume and a former Zygna employee, has pretty big ambitions. "We're going to be the Amazon of food," he tells Bloomberg, which is a puzzling quote considering Amazon will likely be the Amazon of food. (Or maybe it will be Uber Eats or DoorDash or Instacart or Munchery or Postmates.) Nonetheless, Garden believes in Zume, and he believes in robots. "Just imagine Domino's without the labor component," he says. "You can start to see how incredibly profitable that can be." Some day soon, if all goes well for Zume, young computer science graduates everywhere will think "profit" every time they grab a slice.

Zume is the perfect amalgamation of modern Silicon Valley dreams. It's got a dash of the on-demand economy, a sprinkling of automation, and a thick layer of pizza-based disruption. That's not to say that robots making pizza isn't super rad. It totally is. Zume's operation also looks well-equipped to actually make this happen, and at a cost and scale that could make total sense even in dense urban areas. (So long as Zume gets the permits to cook food on the road.) And if anyone is ready to disrupt something — anything in sight, really — it is this guy:

Yet the Bay Area tech industry tends to have a hard time tackling what are quite obviously fun and quirky challenges with the kind of breathless attitude reserved for putting a dent in the universe. It's also not like pizza is a totally untapped market. There's the Domino's Tracker™, and the Brooklyn pizzeria with a pizza box made out of pizza. The Push for Pizza founders, who were admittedly a bunch of goofy college kids, created an app that let you order a pizza... by pushing just one button. They at least were self-aware enough to blow some money on a Lamborghini, decal it terribly, and drive it around universities.

Pizza innovation is on the rise

There's also Pythagoras, a San Francisco-based company with a mobile app that "reimagines delivery-pizza by combining elegant software design with deliciously crafted pies, and a mischievous love for sharing art," in case you like art. And then there's those dudes that made a pizza box that doubled as a weed pipe. None of these substantially altered the process of ordering, delivering, and eating a pizza the old-fashioned way.

Perhaps Zume really will become the Amazon of food, or at the very least inspire a new wave of robotics-based cooking processes used to bring down costs. But for now, it's just the latest — albeit most advanced — operation trying to fuse one of America's most beloved and lazy foods with the gospel of disruption. And that recipe hasn't been fully taste-tested, not yet.

3D Printed Pizza