Zume Pizza adds new robot pizzaolo (and human president)

The Silicon Valley pizza company is out to automate that most sacred of fast foods: the pizza pie.

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California-based Zume Pizza, which is on a mission to combine craft pizza making with automation and big data, just announced the addition of a smart new pizza-making robot named Vincenzo.

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The tech upgrade comes on the heels of Zume's nearly $50 million in venture backing last year. With that kind of cheese, the company appears well-positioned to take a slice of the $33 billion U.S. quick-serve pizza market.

In addition to announcing the new robot, Zume also named a new president, Rhonda Lesinski-Woolf, a Harvard MBA who cut her teeth at Del Monte Foods.

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Vincenzo is actually a robotic arm from ABB with some pizza-specific training. The robot monitors pizzas in Zume's 800-degrees ovens and determines when the crust "hits peak par bake perfection."

Utilizing its six-axis mobility, the robot then removes the pizzas and indexes them in a 27-shelf pie wrack, which is loaded onto a delivery vehicle. Zume's predictive analytics tell the robot how to optimally array each pizza based on the anticipated demand in each neighborhood the driver will pass through.

In addition to speed, the company says a key advantage of Vincenzo is that it keeps humans in the kitchen safe by relieving them of the most dangerous job in pizza making: Sticking your arms near a blazing hot oven.

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"According to the US Dept of Labor, workers in food preparation are more likely to be injured than those in private industry," according to a Zume spokesperson. "With one-third of occupational burns occurring in restaurants, Zume Pizza sees a better way forward, using human-centric automation to make its kitchen one of the safest in the world."

Automation fever has gripped the pizza industry in the last couple years. Domino's has been racing to perfect automated last-mile delivery through a concept it calls the Domino's Robotic Unit (DRU).

Like Zume, Little Caesars has been vying for more automation in the kitchen, most recently by applying for a patent for a pizza-making robot to take most of the crucial pizzaolo tasks away from humans.

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Still, Zume insists human artistry is still central to its business model. In 2016, Zume hired specialist Robert Medina to preside over the company's artisanal dough.

While Vincenzo cooks, Medina keeps tabs on the polish and monitors the rise.