We’ve all come through on the other side of the pizza delivery from hell and lived to tell the tale. Waiting 90 minutes for an expensive slice only to scrape the tepid cheese off the top of the box was enough to make some California entrepreneurs seek out a new approach to the entire process. Was there a way to improve the quality and speed of a typical pizza delivery, without adding costs to the already mounting fees for food, tax, delivery, and tip?
Meet Zume Pizza, a startup launched in 2015 by two friends who brought artificial intelligence and robotics to the pizza biz. Business Insider describes Zume as looking more like a manufacturing plant than a pizza joint. The company has no front-of-house – it’s all delivery – and the bulk of the pizza-making responsibility has been delegated to robots.
Speed is a huge factor in the shift. Zume’s kitchen can reportedly drop 370 pizzas in an hour and cut delivery times to anywhere from five to 20 minutes.
Automation partner ABB Robotics helped design the doughbot, which presses out a ball of dough in nine seconds before sending it down a conveyor line to be slathered in sauce. A robot named Bruno slips the partially completed pizza in an oven to par-bake the shell. After an order is received, a human worker takes care of the application of the desired toppings and cheese, a part of the process that doesn’t lend itself well to automation just yet due to the differing sizes and weights of what’s being applied.
But this next part is my favorite: Once toppings are in place, Zume’s delivery vehicle, which resembles a delivery box truck but equipped with 6 Welbilt ovens, takes over. If you live further than 12 minutes from their operations, Zume packs your pizza partially cooked into one of these ovens, so it finishes baking on the way.
The company says its 14-inch pizzas are all within the $10 and $20 range, which includes delivery. They also stress that Zume is a no-tipping business and that they pay their workers fair wages – including health insurance – so you don’t have to.
And back to the claim of five-minute deliveries – well this is where the artificial intelligence comes in. Zume says a few years of customer data was enough for it to be able to predict, in large part, what kinds of pizzas will be consumed where. Because we’re creatures of habit, I guess. During certain peak hours, it sends its delivery trucks stocked with these standard issue pies, and as soon as you press “submit” on your online order, Zume is ready for you with a piping hot pizza.
Sound too good to be true? Well, for most of America it is. Zume currently reaches just a small region near its Silicon Valley headquarters. But that could change, as its recently been reported that SoftBank is in talks to invest $750 million into the pizza company and Zume says they are working their hardest to expand.
Editorial Corrections (August 20, 2018): A previous version of this story reported that the Zume delivery vehicle was a pizza-emblazoned RV with 56 ovens. It is, in fact, a delivery box truck and the mobile kitchens onboard are outfitted with 6 Welbilt ovens.
Also, it was incorrectly stated that the robot which slips the pizza into the oven following the addition of toppings was named Vincenzo. The correct robot name is Bruno, and Zume only par-bakes their shells now. Topped pies with fresh ingredients aren't fully cooked until an order is placed, which are then cooked on board using the mobile kitchens.
We apologize for the errors in the earlier representation of this article.