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Silicon Valley's New Vision for the Pizzeria Involves Lots of Robots

Not long after the pizzeria Zume opened for business last year, its kitchen staff noticed a problem with some of its pizzas: they had holes in them.

Silicon Valley's New Vision for the Pizzeria Involves Lots of Robots

It wasn't the fault of the workers, who rolled out intact dough bases. There wasn't a kitchen mole prodding holes. It wasn't even the recipe - a Zume pizza base can handle its fair share of toppings. It was the robots.

Josh Goldberg, 38, is the chief technology officer of the Mountain View, Calif., pizza joint. Although most pizzerias don’t have an engineering staff, let alone a CTO, Zume prides itself on its use of automation to make operations more efficient.

It estimates its kitchen can make 10 times more pizzas than a pizzeria with a comparable staff. It has a robot that squirts tomato sauce onto its pies. It has a robot that spreads the sauce, mimicking the movements of Zume’s head chef. There’s a robot arm (similar to those found in auto manufacturing facilities) that puts the pie in the oven. And, as of this month, there’s a robot that presses the dough into a perfect circle.

So if the company has a non-human problem, it’s Goldberg’s problem.

Observing operations in the company’s lab-like kitchen, Goldberg watched as the human cooks spun glossy blobs of dough and placed them on the conveyor belt. He watched as a camera hovering above snapped a photo of the dough so it could inform the other robots of the pizza’s size, shape and precise location. Another camera detected the center of the pie and instructed a nozzle to squirt sauce, and a delta robot — the kind used on assembly lines — used a spiral movement to spread it. Humans topped the pizza with pepperoni, fresh basil and cheese.

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