There was once a time when the Pizza Hut Stuffed Crust pizza was enough to get people excited. Today, in a world of bacon-wrapped crust and custom-modified Chevys with pizza warmers, being excited about pizza is just not as easy as it used to be.

Zume Pizza founder Julia Collins and her Elon Musk-esque approach to pizza doesn’t care much for the rest of the pizza industry. In her mind, the pizzavations of the previous decades are irrelevant if the pies arrive soggy, cold and packed with chemicals. She is taking on the pizzastablishment with robots, a truck, 56 ovens, a passionate staff and some predictive analytics.

Pizza-making robots

When I traveled to Zume Pizza’s Mountain View headquarters, I half expected to walk into a restaurant. Instead, what I saw was a quintessential Silicon Valley tech startup. Not tech in the way that ordinary pizza chains have internal innovation teams for building apps, but tech in the way that the office had a Juicero front-and-center, surrounded by external monitors — with no pizza in sight.

Marta the sauce-spreading robot

Not far from the monitors was a tiny door that led to the heart of the operation. A small, conservative setup with a handful of employees and well… you know… robots typically seen on the assembly line of an automotive plant.

Zume Robot

Bruno the robotic pizza peel

While the robots make for great publicity, the machinery actually makes your pizza better. A tomato sauce-dispensing robot, Pepe, and a sauce-spreading robot, Marta, can actually spread sauce more evenly than a human. The six-axis beast seen in the photo on the right is Bruno. Bruno can pick up pizzas off the end of the line and put them into the oven without the training typically required to master the use of a pizza peel.

After the pizza comes out of the oven, it is boxed in specialty pizza boxes that alleviate the effects of steam on the crispness of the pizza crust. The compostable sugar cane-based box has ridges that redirect the flow of any drippings, and the top of the box can absorb additional moisture.

From here, a team of “pilots” take the pizza and deliver it to customers using a data-driven logistics platform to coordinate deliveries. To most people this would be impressive, and it rightfully is. Making pizza with robots is cool, but it’s not enough to deliver on the company’s goals of serving up Neapolitan pizza to everyone. Artisan pizza cannot sit; even with the innovations in the pizza boxes and delivery routing, the delivery time still averages 22 minutes, and that simply isn’t fast enough.

Where things get really crazy

Zume has been investing heavily in oven design. This is because in the future, pizzas will not be cooked on-site. They will be cooked during the delivery process itself. Collins has turned a truck, the type you would see delivering UPS packages, into a pizza factory. A custom-designed rig holds 56 GPS-connected pizza ovens housed on gimbals to prevent sliding on hills.



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