Picnic, formerly Vivid Robotics (and before that, Otto Robotics), came out of stealth mode today and announced its first product, an assembly-line-style food production robotic platform that will initially focus on making pizzas.
Unlike the pizza robots used by Zume and PAZZI, the Picnic robot has no articulating arms, but is a series of modular, customizable food dispensers. With pizza, an empty crust (frozen or handmade) is loaded into the machine where computer vision determines what size it is. When an order comes in, the crust moves onto a conveyor system which dispenses the sauce, cheese and toppings as the crust passes underneath. Once topped, the pies are move by a human into a pizza oven (Picnic believes pizza ovens are already good and didn’t need to be roboticized).
Picnic is in the Robotics as a Service business. As such, the company doesn’t charge clients for the robot, but rather works with each of its clients to create a customized monthly fee based on how many modules are needed, usage, etc.
Picnic’s robot can make 180, 18-inch or 300, 12-inch pizzas per hour. Because it is modular, the number of ingredients can be added or customized by placing another dispenser module in the lineup. As part of today’s announcement, Picnic also revealed two of its first customers: Centerplate, an event hospitality company with more than 200 locations at sports and entertainment venues, and Zaucer pizza, a Washington state pizza company. Centerplate has been using the Picnic robot for pizzas at T-Mobile Park in Picnic’s hometown of Seattle.
I went to Picnic HQ to check out the robot last week, and CEO Clayton Wood explained that pizza is just one use case for its robot. Because of the linear, modular nature of the platform, it could be used for any assembly style eatery. Think: Subway style sandwiches or burritos, with the dispensers layering on customizable toppings.
With its release, Picnic is sitting at the nexus of a few trends happening in the food world right now. Obviously, Picnic is automating traditional, entry level human jobs, a big topic in the world of robotics. But Wood told me that the clients he is speaking with are looking to automation because they have a hard time filling those jobs. Even when they do, there is high-turnover, and each time a person quits (or just doesn’t show up), their replacement has to go through the whole (expensive) training process.
There is a broader economics discussion to be had about why that’s happening, but it echoes what we’ve heard from other restaurant owners, and is even borne out in the research. Industry estimates peg the turnover rate for restaurants as high as 150 percent. So even those human replacements are getting replacements.
But it’s not just that Picnic is automating food production, it’s also where that’s happening. By going into T-Mobile Park, Picnic is reinforcing the idea that if you want to see the future of food tech, go to your local stadium or arena. These high-traffic, high-volume locations are hotbeds for food innovation and automation. At Dodger Stadium you can have Flippy fry you up some chicken tenders, at Yankee Stadium you can use Postmates to order food and skip the line, and at Golden 1 Center arena in Sacramento, you can shop at Zippin’s cashierless checkout convenience store.
Picnic’s robot can also potentially help fight food waste. Because the process is automated, each pizza is topped with the same amount of ingredients each time, every time. The robotic delivery also reduces spillage and mismanagement. (So no extra cheese for you!)
Picnic will be cooking up pizzas at our upcoming Smart Kitchen Summit next week(!). As if you needed another reason to attend, but if a pizza making robot won’t draw you in, I don’t know what will.