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In Silicon Valley, Even Pizza Is High Tech

The Zume team is going to be “the Amazon of food” if its co-founders get their way. (Photo: Zume)

Silicon Valley startup ZUME aims to be “the Amazon of food,” according to Alex Garden, the co-founder and executive chairman. Located in Mountain View, California, the pizza operation is already breaking new ground with its sophisticated robot assembly line. And that’s not the only innovation: If approved by the Santa Clara County Department of Environmental Health, Zume pizzas will arrive hot and fresh at their destination as the company’s driver heats them in a series of ovens built into the delivery truck, en route to the customer.  This cook-as-you-go delivery system will put Zume a huge step ahead of other auto-delivery systems currently in the trial stages, such as Domino Pizza Australia’s autonomous delivery vehicle, DRU (short for Domino’s Robotic Unit).

Garden, 41, is the former president of Zynga Studios. Before that, he was a general manager of Microsoft’s Xbox Live. For over a year, he kept his concept for Zume a close secret, surreptitiously recruiting the engineers he needed to design and develop his patented mobile pizza-baking truck. In September, 2015, Julia Collins, a 37-year-old restaurant veteran, joined him as chief executive officer and a co-founder.

Swiss robotic giant ABB’s AbbFlexPicker helps prepare Zume pizza. (Photo: ABB)

Like all robots, the pizza bots work for free, take no breaks, and never take a sick day. There are two robots working at Zume Pizza. Each repeats the same mundane task at high speed, over and over without complaint, and with perfect efficiency. As the pizza travels along a conveyor belt, one bot spits the sauce onto the flattened dough and the next spreads it, swirling the sauce precisely edge to edge, leaving the exact right amount of crust.  The operation isn’t completely automated, however. A human coworker preps the dough, and uses a massive machine to flatten it out.  Then, once the bots have done their magic, other humans finish it with the cheese and toppings before a final robotic arm loads the uncooked pie onto a metal tray.

In October, 2015, Collins and Garden assembled an international crew of mechanical, electrical, and software engineers and looked to Swiss robotic giant ABB for their custom robots. In April, they sold their first cyborg-constructed pie. The massive robots, with their long, leggy appendages working nimbly over the conveyor belt, look like giant spiders preparing the pizzas.

This isn’t just run-of-the-mill pizza, either. This is artisan pizza. Great care and pride goes into the various offerings. Customers can expect a gourmet pie delivered at high speed and at a reasonable price. CEO Collins writes, “We care deeply about the health and wellness of our customers, employees and producers and about the impact that our products have on our environment. For these reasons we adhere to a very careful sourcing philosophy that guarantees that our products are always wholesome and delicious. ‘Food = Love.’ This is the equation that drives all of our sourcing decisions at Zume Pizza.” She goes on to promise that the pizza dough is fermented for 18-24 hours, using flour, fresh yeast, filtered water, salt and extra virgin olive oil. Their produce is sourced from local farms at the peak of ripeness. Meats are crafted by hand using only naturally occurring nitrites and nitrates whenever possible. Their flours are non-GMO and never bleached or bromated. And their packaging is made from 100% sugarcane fiber and every component of the box, including the sticker, is totally biodegradable and compostable.

This attention to wholesome nutrition, along with a concern for environmental impact makes Zume’s motto apropos: “Zume is the pizza that feeds your soul.” Even if some of that soul is served up by robots.



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