Special Feature
Part of a ZDNet Special Feature: Coronavirus: Business and technology in a pandemic

Facial recognition vending machine pizza (that's ... really good)

Pizza has emerged as the highest tech of quick serve categories. Now it can recognize you.

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A company that's bringing gourmet pizza to a vending machine near you is adding a new high tech quirk to its quick-serve process. Piestro, which has developed an automated artisan pizza concept, is partnering with PopID, which develops facial recognition payment technology, to offer pizza you pay for with your pretty mug.

As I wrote last year when Piestro launched its robotically prepared pizza concept, vending machine pizza isn't such a far fetched concept in the age of fresh-tossed salad from a robot named Sally and a really good pull of espresso from one of Cafe X's robotic baristas. Automation in food preparation was gaining steam even before COVID-19, although there were some telltale disappointments. Zume, an automated end-to-end pizza restaurant and delivery service that primarily used robots instead of humans, once had a $4 billion valuation but shut down its robot-powered pizza business, laid off more than half its staff, and is shifting focus to autonomous packaging.

However, Zume's model was built on delivery, a tricky logistical stack of cards. Automated vending machines, however, are a model that's been around for more than half-a-century. The innovation Piestro, Sally, and others hope will catch on is equating the concept with high quality food. Japan, international king of automation, has been way out ahead in the gourmet vending machine space, but the concept has been slower to take hold in the West.

Convenience may overcome that, and that's where PopID comes in.

"As we navigate our way out of the pandemic, the demand for contactless ordering and payment options is not going away any time soon," said John Miller, Chairman of Cali Group, a holding company that comprises significant ownership positions in various technology companies developing software products to digitize and automate the brick and mortar world. "PopID is the go-to universal gateway for contactless payment applications and will enable Piestro to offer an innovative user experience that exceeds customer expectations. We are thrilled to enter into a partnership that will get pizza lovers their favorite creation faster – all they need is their face to pay." 

The integration will allow for on-site contactless ordering and payment via PopID-compatible Piestro machines, allowing customers to select and utilize PopID's PopPay solution as a payment method on the same screen they viewed Piestro's menu and placed their order. Piestro also integrates app ordering and payment using PopID as a payment method on Piestro's app for placing pre-orders for pickup. Customers will have the option of verifying their identity with PopID to retrieve their order. 

"Integrating PopID into our system will allow our customers a safe and reliable way to pay for their pizzas while also expediting the overall process from ordering to eating," said Massimo De Marco, CEO of Piestro. "We want our customers to experience our deliciously crafted pizzas as quickly as possible, without sacrificing the quality of the product or their health and safety. PopID does that, and we are excited to partner with them to give customers the payment experience they deserve."