A Robot Pizza-Making Company Is Silicon Valley's Latest Obsession

Zume Pizza, a Silicon Valley-based storeless food delivery startup targeting the San Francisco Bay Area which uses robots to bake its pies, has secured a $48 million investment in its latest VC funding round according to Axios. The company, which uses proprietary trucks to deliver robot-made fresh pizzas to Palo Alto, Stanford and Mountain View, and claims to have pioneered a robot-assisted technique for pressing pizza dough in a perfect circle in just nine seconds, previously raised over $23 million from AME Cloud Ventures, Maveron, SignalFire, and Kortschak Investments.

Zume is one of a growing number of "food automation" startups popping up in the Bay Area fusing cooking with technology. It utilizes big trucks outfitted with ovens and pizza-cooking robots that deliver fresh food to customers. Zume says its model helps it cut down on overhead costs like rent, and that robots can replace humans in areas where the tasks are unsafe, boring, or arduous.

Photo: Zume Pizza

Combine the robotic pizza chef with a driverless truck, and you get a door-to-door pizza delivery service with no humans involved whatsoever.

Zume, to be sure, is not alone in its quest to "disintermediate" humans from the fast food experience. For instance, Eatsa — which now has a number of locations in California — has made headlines in the past for letting you order healthy and low-cost quinoa-based bowls without interacting with a single human. These types of companies combine the on-demand ambitions of startups like DoorDash, Munchery, and Postmates with a kitchen technology twist, all with the aim of avoiding the typically heavy costs associated with food production and logistics. To achieve that, Zume recently hired Susan Alban, who led the launch Uber’s food delivery arm UberEats, as its new vice president of operations.

“We wanted to identify places where humans were overtaxed physically, bored, or whether the job they were doing was not safe, like sticking their hand into a 600 degree oven for six hours a day,” said company CEO and co-founder Julia Collins in an interview with The Verge. “That’s why we focused next on this practice of opening the dough.”

The company's robot, named Doughbot, is now being deployed on Zume’s “robot-enabled pizza assembly line,” where it does the job of pressing dough up to five times faster than even the most seasoned pizza spinning pros.

The company, which first began delivering pizzas last year, was founded on two core concepts: robotic automation and on-route cooking. Robotic automation is easy enough to understand. Zume, which sources machines from industrial robot maker ABB, employs these devices for tasks like dispensing the perfect amount of sauce, spreading that sauce, removing pizzas from ovens, and, now, spreading the dough with just the right thinness and crust-to-pie ratio. The various robots work in unison with humans in an assembly line-style work space attached to the company’s Mountain View facility.

“Folks often go to the robots first, because robots are sexy,” CEO Collins says. “But the founding idea of Zume was really cooking on route.”

Indeed, the robot is just a small part of the grand vision. According to The Verge, Zume Pizza uses up to six specially designed delivery vehicles the size of FedEx trucks. Each one is outfitted with dozens of pizza ovens that can simultaneously reheat hundreds of pizzas, so that each one can be placed fresh and hot into the company’s custom pizza box. That way, when someone orders pizza, it arrives in under 20 minute

In addition to robots, the company also relies on that other big buzzword du jour: "big data."

“We use predictive technology to make really high-fidelity bets on what pizzas people are going to order,” Collins says. “Early in the morning we produce a daily inventory of pizzas. We predict the total volume of pizzas and the types of pizzas that we need to satisfy that day’s demand.” That way, Zume doesn’t have to cook every pizza from scratch, while still managing to avoid the fast food pitfalls of serving precooked meals.

Zume’s ultimate goal is to make fresh, locally sourced food at reasonable prices by aggressively rethinking the costs of running a food operation dependent on delivery. Zume pizzas are priced between $10 and $20 for a single pie, and the company uses up to 60 ingredients to offer gluten-free and vegetarian options, as well as artisan-style pizzas with ingredients like arugula pesto, asparagus, and ricotta.


All ordering is done through the company’s mobile or website. There is no storefront. “So rather than paying 10 percent of sales in rent, we pay 2 percent of sales in rent,” Collins says, while “robots increase our production volume.”

The unique business model allows Zume to keep costs down without relying on contractors, like so many of the Bay Area-based food delivery startups (and ride-hailing apps). Collins says Zume has around 115 full-time employees, all of which receive benefits like health insurance. Will these employees also be automated away by robots? Collins stresses that the goal is never to fully automate the process of making and delivering food, although that's precisely what she is doing.

“Our goal was never to have end-to-end automation. It was never, ‘How can we have a pizza production operation that would have no humans?’” Collins says. Automation allows Zume employees to shift focus from laborious tasks to more creative ways, she adds. “Our best pizza spinner is really happy to work on our menu and ingredient selection.”

Of course, as the Verge cynically notes, this all sounds like the quintessential utopian dream of automation: a world where robots takeover only the most boring and physically taxing jobs and humans are free to perform creative and fulfilling work. The problem emerges when most of these humans find there are no jobs for their skillset.

As for Zume, there’s no telling how well the company will scale when it attempts to tackle a market as dense and complex as, San Francisco, the biggest target on the company’s radar, or if it were to eventually go national (or global). Furthermore, there’s also no telling how sophisticated artificial intelligence and robotics will be in just five year’s time. Who’s to say ingredient selection won’t be perfected by an algorithm? Driving Zume’s trucks most certainly will be automated by self-driving cars at some point in the future, even if that practice is still decades away on a regulatory timeline.

“We want to make sure everyone has access to high-quality, affordable food,” she says of Zume’s goal, “and to use technology to solve American’s food problem.” If that mission involves a robot that can press dough or spread sauce faster and better than a human being, can you really blame Zume for being the first to get out there and use it?

Of course, if Zume is successful, hundreds of thousands if not millions of low-wage pizza maker and delivery guy positions will be history, unleashing another round of tech-induced deflation and mass unemployment, even as the Fed continues to figure out the inflation "mystery."


a Smudge by an… StackShinyStuff Sun, 10/08/2017 - 10:31 Permalink

They almost had me. I wanted to see a machine make pizza. Well so they have machines making half a pizza.

But yeah at the end with this "bake on the way" thing? LOOK AT THE SIZE OF THAT FREAKING TRUCK. Know what that would do to traffic in NYC or Sanfran? They are supposed to pull that thing into residential driveways?

This is a real trend with SV lately. Let's call it the "take something great and make it fucking stupid" model.

In reply to by StackShinyStuff

krispkritter a Smudge by an… Sun, 10/08/2017 - 14:48 Permalink

Guy in Springhill has a truck like that.  Has a brick oven in the back.  He makes a real fresh dough, brick oven pizza, 9" with cheese for $7.  Fully loaded 12" with 3 meats is like $12. Cooks in about 3 minutes and has an amazing crust. Real 00 flour too.  He can literally park in your driveway and make you a pizza or all your football/birthday partiers their own pie.  He does the rounds with other food trucks and does events at local wineries.  No robots involved.

In reply to by a Smudge by an…

Giant Meteor Mtnrunnr Sun, 10/08/2017 - 09:39 Permalink

I remember beer and pizza night at the old Tom Jones club, when giant meteor was a growing teen. $0.25 beer, $0.25 slice of pizza. That's right, quarter beer and pizza night. Drinking age was 18, which meant you started going at 16. The pizza of course kept nice and warm under the heat lamp, the beer was probably not quite as warm but close, as they were pre-poured into clear plastic cups just to keep up with the volume in sales.  Of course it was Tuesday, rock n roll, DJ night , packed house, flashing dance floor, and the baddest ass sound system, playing the baddest as rock and roll tunes of 60's early seventies .. and chicks, plenty of chicks .. also several riots that I recall,,Those were the days my friend, I thought they'd never end ..

In reply to by Mtnrunnr

Giant Meteor omi Sun, 10/08/2017 - 16:23 Permalink

Frankly, I'm just amazed I survived it ..The road houses of my youth, and many well before them are long, long gone .. They litter the landscape as dilapidated skeletons , like the rest, add to them once proud familiy farms, mom and pops, all relics of a bygone era ..The place I come from, a small town in the rustbelt, has been in a long, sustained, grinding depression for the last 40 years.I went back and talked with a friend once, who inherited a family bar, and he told me, now they come in to try and kite checks, to score drugs. He told me I would be surprised at the people, families, many of whom I would know he said, that got caught up in the crack epedemic of the time.The places of my youth, are literal ghosts, ghost lands from the past now ..THe nations leaders, sold out and turned on the nations citizens, for a few sheckels more, long, long ago  ..There is a price to be paid. Trouble is, one never knows when the price comes due, but come due, it must.

In reply to by omi

BandGap Giant Meteor Sun, 10/08/2017 - 10:09 Permalink

$4 for a pizza with two toppings, $1.50 for a six pack. Used to get cases of beer from the local brewery (remember those reused, scuffed, longnecked brown bottles with the tilted labels?) for $4 a case. Gas was $0.52 a gallon.So for $5 you got a six pack, half a pizza and pitched in for gas to boot. Most Friday you had change left over.The 70s have taken on a new meaning in my later years.

In reply to by Giant Meteor

Giant Meteor BandGap Sun, 10/08/2017 - 10:27 Permalink

A steady erosion, dilution via the funny monies, and the natives are increasingly getting restless, and lookin for hides to skin ..A dishonest "money system" is the root of all evil ...Which is exactly why, at least the way I see it, every other fooking thing is a distraction to the main event ..It is the dishonest money system, that enables all this fraud, and I might add, warring, corruption, murder and insanity ...

In reply to by BandGap

Endgame Napoleon Mtnrunnr Sun, 10/08/2017 - 10:25 Permalink

After eliminating all of that human labor expense, why isn’t the price lower? It is the same thing with welfare-supported, low-wage, illegal alien farm labor and food costs. Food is super-expensive, even though the crops are still harvested by cheap human labor, with 100% robotic farms already in operation in Japan.

Perhaps, a few in upper management and stockholders pocket the difference in labor savings.

By logic, the same people in SV who are betting on robotic labor should vote against mass immigration and pay-per-birth welfare and child tax credits from $3,337 to $6,269, which incentivize the creation of even more humans to compete with robots for jobs, reducing wages and hours even more for all of the underemployed humans who get no pay-per-birth freebies to make up the difference between low pay and living expenses. Something tells me they play it both ways.

In reply to by Mtnrunnr

mkkby Endgame Napoleon Sun, 10/08/2017 - 15:26 Permalink

It's an investor scam. The robot INCREASES THE LABOR COST.

No human to roll dough. It's even more work to clean the robot, load the ingredients, adjust/program the robot.

Pay $1 million for a robot vs. $12/hour for a high school kid. To sell the same $20 pizza. And now you need to add expensive programmers.

Notice how she lied. Nobody puts their hand in a hot oven. They use a paddle. So no reason at all for the robot except to scam stupid investors. Is Boris Becker around somewhere?

In reply to by Endgame Napoleon

detached.amusement ExpendableOne Sun, 10/08/2017 - 12:02 Permalink

wrong, this is all about the patent to make the food en route, that's where the real money potential in the operation is.it was interesting how they modeled my buddy's hand for this, right down to spreading sauce and cheese.  the chef is also the singer for the band Death Threat.  if CT was useful for something, it was its contributions to the Hardcore world.I hope for his part he does well with it.the pizzas are par baked as prep and then GPS kicks off the oven in the right amount of time so that its ready  when delivery happens.my buddies that have tried it said the robot pizza's pretty damned good.  old school brooklyn taught recipes, after all. 

In reply to by ExpendableOne

Omen IV SickDollar Sun, 10/08/2017 - 11:05 Permalink

so why bring in millions of refugees and illegals - over 30 million - if the trend is to use less labor and the documentation is unassailable - then round them up and deport - ALL -  no exceptions - the country needs less than 140 million people it now has 325 +++ million - no one really knows what the number is reduce the population!

In reply to by SickDollar

yellowsub Looney Sun, 10/08/2017 - 09:16 Permalink

The tech isn't new, major food processors has been using automation to make frozen or pre-cooked foods for packaging for a long time.We're just seeing it in use where as it's always been out of sight.  Take a look at some How It's Made videos on the food processing industry. 

In reply to by Looney