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I ate a pizza made by a robot in the back of a truck, and it was delicious

It’s Saturday night, and you and your significant other are deciding what to eat for dinner. You could go out, but you’ve both had long weeks at work, and sitting at home sounds infinitely better. You fire up the Zume app, make a selection, and choose that classic pizza flavor that you’ve enjoyed Saturday night after Saturday night. In a matter of minutes, your pizza’s cooked and at your door.

That’s the vision behind one of the latest, hot Silicon Valley startups, Zume Pizza. The new pizza joint isn’t like the others — instead of using the same supposedly tried-and-true business models created by the likes of Domino’s and Pizza Hut, Zume gives robots the responsibility of a lot of the pizza making. The advantage? Pizza is delivered in a matter of minutes, and the humans that work at the company can spend more time doing what they’re good at.

The robots themselves, which are given names like Marta, aren’t designed to totally replace humans. They just take care of the highly repetitive and often boring parts of the pizza making — things like spreading the sauce and loading the oven. Humans, on the other hand, still knead the dough and perform the final inspection before the pizza is delivered to your door.

“What we believe is that our kitchen will be 80-percent automated by March of next year”

“What we believe is that our kitchen will be 80-percent automated by March of next year,” said Zume co-founder and CEO Julia Collins in an interview with Digital Trends. “What the humans will do is things like quality control and then what we call expo — so, that final check of the pizza before it goes out the door.”

Zume wants to be the “Amazon of food,” according to Forbes. While it’s not there yet, the company is looking to expand; its next facility is opening up in San Jose in the first quarter of 2017 and will be lead by people trained in the Mountain View facility.

Artificial intelligence predicts when you’ll want your pizza next

Part of what makes Zume so fast is that it uses predictive deployment, or a type of artificial intelligence, to figure out when to make pizzas before they’re even ordered. That’s because humans are creatures of habit. Once a person finds their favorite pizza, they order the same type of pizza over and over, often on the same day of the week around the same time.

Image used with permission by copyright holder

Consequently, Zume can predict what pizzas people are going to order, pre-bake them, pre-load them into the Zume truck, and be only a few minutes away from your home by the time you order your pizza.

While Dominos has an average delivery time of 45 minutes, Zume says it can get you your pizza in between 5 and 15 minutes. Because your pizza might be partially pre-made ahead of time means it should still be piping hot when it gets to your house. Zume doesn’t stop cooking the pizza until it’s four minutes away from your door.

The secret’s in the robot-spread sauce

Zume HQ, which is located just a few minutes from the Google campus in Mountain View, California, is divided into a main kitchen, where the Zume robots do their work, and an office space, where a dozen or so engineers and developers work on building the robots and the Zume apps.

For a company so focused on the business side of things, it would be easy to assume that it forgets about the food side of pizza making.

In that back kitchen, the pizza dough is first kneaded by a human, after which it’s placed on a type of conveyer belt. One of the robots squirts a little sauce on it, and then another robot uses its arm to spread that sauce around. Next up, humans put on the ingredients, like the cheese and pepperoni, and the pizza makes its way to an oven-loading bot. After the pizza makes its way through the oven, a human unloads it, checks it for quality control, places it in its box, and sends it on its way.

 The trucks complete the process

On top of the super high-tech kitchen at Zume HQ, the company also owns and operates some pretty high-tech trucks, each of which is fully equipped with an iPad for pizza orders and navigation, as well as a whopping 56 ovens. The pizzas leave the facility only partially baked, then finish the baking on the way to your area, so that they’re nice and hot by the time they get there.

That also means that there doesn’t have to be a brick-and-mortar store in every area. Instead, a fleet of trucks can serve a number of areas, and instead of having to go back to HQ every few hours, pizzas can be cooked onboard and served in the area that they’re at. That saves both time and money.

Good business and good food

Digital Trends certainly isn’t a food review blog, but we know a good pizza when we see one. At the facility, we ordered the pepperoni pizza, then tracked it through the process of it being created. The crust was especially nice, and everything together tasted far more “natural” than you might expect from a fast-food pizza joint. There was a good amount of sauce, which was squirted onto the pizza by one of the robots, and it was clear that the distribution of the ingredients was scrutinized so as to be perfect.

For a company so focused on the business side of things, it would be easy to assume that it forgets about the food side of pizza making. Thankfully, it doesn’t. The ingredients are decidedly low-tech and locally sourced. That’s a good thing. “We’re able to afford to ferment our dough for 48 hours and source single-family, dry-farmed tomatoes from Veridian, California, because we spend less in other areas,” said Collins.

The result? A delicious, healthier pizza. While you might be taking in 300 calories per slice at Domino’s (depending on the toppings), Zume pizza has only 170 calories per slice. Sodium, fat, and cholesterol are also lower.

What about the humans?

Zume doesn’t stop at making great food and using top technology to do it. While the company saves money by using robots for certain tasks, it reinvests a lot of that money into its employees.

Image used with permission by copyright holder

“Zume has decided to take always a phased approach to automation, which creates jobs for people, and then to retrain those people on things like coding or graphic design or customer service or management. So that’s the philosophy behind the people,” said Collins.

Because the company saves money with robots, the humans that are employed by the company can be paid a little more. While some employees pizza-delivery companies are paid minimum wage and rely on tips, Zume doesn’t charge for delivery and there are no tips involved. Instead, Zume’s employees are full-time with health, vision, and dental insurance, who make an average of $17 per hour.

The end game is great taste

All of this wouldn’t matter if the pizzas didn’t taste good. Zume is a young company and it has an uphill battle ahead of it, especially with the likes of Domino’s and Pizza Hut continuing their reign of dominance. Zume has a few things going for it: Its pizzas taste great, and they’re healthier than the competition for a similar price. Only time will tell if it can actually take a chunk out of Domino’s market share, but if you in the Bay area its worth taking a bite out of Zume’s pizzas.

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