Zume, the Bay Area startup that uses data, robotics and mobile ovens to optimize pizza delivery, today announced that it has added Vincenzo, a new robot that will take over the dangerous task of taking pizzas crusts out of hot ovens, to the company’s roster.
Before getting into the specifics of Vincenzo (named after the Italian gentleman who would fly from Italy to maintain Zume’s pizza ovens), it’s important to understand how Zume works.
Zume, which only operates in certain locations in the Bay Area, uses data analytics and AI to precisely forecast how many pizzas (and what types) will be needed for deliveries that evening. To prepare the pizzas for delivery, the crusts are par-baked before toppings are added at the production facility.
Par-baking the crust used to require a human sticking their arms in and out of 800 degree ovens hundreds of times a day to remove pizzas and place them on the appropriate rack. This type of repetitive motion could lead to burns that injure us fleshy humans. Vincenzo’s robot arm, on the other hand (no pun intended) feels no pain, and can remove a crust without tearing or breaking it every 8 seconds.
“We’ve had this hardcore point of view on automation of labor,” Alex Garden, CEO of Zume told me. “There is social responsibility around this. Automation exists to improve the quality of human lives.”
In addition to being impervious to pain, Vincenzo is also precise. Once pizzas are topped by humans, Vincenzo pulls them off another conveyor belt and, with guidance from Zume’s AI, places them on a corresponding specified rack that goes on the van where they are fully cooked en route to delivery.
Vincenzo joins the growing Zume robot family which also includes Bruno, who loads pizzas into the oven, and sauce bots Pepe and Giorgio. But Garden is quick to point out that he does not see robots as replacements for humans. “We are co-botic, not robotic,” he said. Garden also said that robots taking the more dangerous, repetitive jobs frees up people to do higher-level tasks, like caring for the pizza’s mother dough.
Another job that humans are (presumably) better at is that of company president, and Zume just added a new one. Zume also announced today that Rhonda Lesinski-Woolf is now President of Zume Pizza. She joins the company after having served as Sr. Vice President of Schools for Revolution Foods. Prior to that, she was Chief Marketing Officer and Sr. Vice President of Product Management at Del Monte.
In addition to managing robots and humans, Lesinski will also need to fend off the company’s automated competition. Making pizza seems like an increasingly popular vocation for robots: Little Caesar’s has a patent for a pizza robot, and over in Europe, EKIM just raised 2.2 million euros to build its own robot-pizza restaurant.
Zume is also expanding beyond its pizza origins. In April the company announced that it would open up its data and logistics platform to other restaurants, and partnered with Welbilt to create vans that could cook other types of cuisine on the go.
If you like pizza robots, you should definitely check out The Spoon Automat, our weekly podcast about food robots and AI.