A robotics startup called Zume Pizza, which is automating en route pizza production, has raised nearly $50 million in venture funding.
Why so much money for a company automating pizza production and delivery? Because if successful, it will change the way fast food operates by increasing speed and freshness while reducing a significant portion of labor costs.
That's especially important in the restaurant industry. Food costs are going down, which is good news for fast food companies, but labor costs have been rising steadily. The cost of labor as a percentage of sales rose .8 percent in 2016, according to the consulting firm BDO.
Since fast food relies on low-skill, repeatable tasks, it's the perfect use-case for automation. That's led to a rush of innovation in food service.
The New York Times recently profiled a salad-making robot named Sally, which is made by Chowbotics. The company says its robot eliminates the unsanitary elements of the ubiquitous salad bar.
Moley Robotics has created a robotic chef that consists of two arms that hang down over a work station to prepare and cook meals. The system costs about $15,000 and is expected to go on sale next year.
Just last month a hamburger robot named Flippy got its first restaurant job at Caliburger.
According to an SEC filing, Zume Pizza's recent round raised $48 million, just shy of the company's goal. Last December Zume raised $23 million.
The company, which is already delivering pizzas in Silicon Valley, uses an assembly line of robots to flatten dough into circles, spread sauce and cheese, and slide the pies into and out of an 800 degree oven.
The process begins on a robotic assembly line in a centralized kitchen, but pizzas finish cooking in ovens inside of trucks en route to delivery.
Zume uses predictive analytics to figure out which toppings are going to be most popular in a given area and when demand might surge--for example, during a major sporting event. Like Uber, transactions are cashless.
Zume Pizza has more than 100 employees and sources its robotic arms from ABB, a maker of industrial robots.