Zume Pizza, two minutes from the Google Campus in Mountain Home, California, is bringing robots into the pizza delivery business. In so doing, they’re answering some questions about how collaborative robotic workers will get along with people and how the Industrial Internet of Things will fit into our human life and work.
Zume isn’t doing anything completely revolutionary. Automation has been making its way into restaurants for some years, and the pizza-making robots are in safety cages. Some of the major pizza chains are actually using robots to interact with humans, arguably more difficult than spreading tomato sauce on a pizza. Domino’s is testing robot delivery vehicles. Popular Science‘s report on Zume reminds us all that pizzas are already routinely made by machine for frozen food companies, and that the Zume system is no faster than the all-human system at Domino’s.
But Zume has programmed its sauce spreading robot to spread that sauce perfectly from a functional standpoint… but not quite perfectly from a visual standpoint. That keeps customers feeling like their pies were made by loving human hands.
One Zume robot adds sauce, humans add toppings (presumably with that artisanal touch) and another robot pops the pizza in the oven. Next up, patented delivery trucks with built-in ovens which will be activated remotely so that the pizza comes out of the oven just in time to be carried piping hot to the customer’s door.
This last feature is waiting for approval from the county Department of Health. If all goes well, this could be the essential point of differentiation that makes the Zume experience better, not just cooler.
Analysts don’t think that Zume is going to revolutionize the industry. Forbes just pointed out that this is another reminder that unskilled minimum wage jobs will belong to the robots in the future.
But Zume is doing something a little different. It’s not just automation for the sake of speed and efficiency, cost-cutting and safety. Those are all good things. But Zume, by programming their sauce robot to replicate the artisinal feel of human-spread sauce, is creating a robotic worker that can provide that human service experience. Pizza cooked by an IIoT truck but then carried to the door by a smiling human being will feel like someone made you a fresh, hot dinner. For human beings, that’s practically a sign of love.
In the U.S., where thoughts of robots are so often connected with job loss or rising up and taking out all the humans, the ability to make robots more emotionally acceptable could be just as valuable as the ability to make them put mushroom slices on a pizza with flair.