Pizza By Robot - Automation And How It Will Affect You

ROBOTICS AND AUTOMATION are set to become ever more prevalent in our society, particularly in labour-intensive industries such as foodservice. With robots already being used across Asia and Europe for basic delivery tasks such as hotel room service, it’s no surprise that Domino’s Australia has recently announced its “world first” autonomous delivery robot, called Domino’s Robotic Unit or DRU.

Featured on Domino’s Australia website, DRU is described as “a four wheeled vehicle with compartments to keep the customer’s order piping hot and drinks icy cold while travelling on the footpath at a safe speed from the store to the customer’s door” — but the website also notes that DRU “won’t be taking to the streets tomorrow” even though it suggests he’s “set to take the world by storm”. While such announcements are a good way to garner publicity, it seems practical implementation of robot delivery is still some way off.

Robot cooking, however, is already here, and becoming steadily more commonplace. Six months ago French technology startup Ekim began showcasing its three-armed autonomous pizzamaking robot capable of making one pizza every 30 seconds. Not only have its arm movements been programmed to match those of real-life pizzamakers, the fact that it has three of them means it can work on several pizzas at once.

The Ekim robot is just one among several similar concepts. This time last year, US pizza chain Little Caesar’s (no relation to the Australian operation of the same name) patented a pizza assembly robot with articulating arm, gripper to hold pizzas and ‘rotary dial’ system to distribute toppings.

And back in 2017, Zume Pizza of San Francisco became one of the earliest adopters of robotics for pizza — although its ‘Doughbot’ robot is employed mainly to press pizza dough, which it can do up to five times faster than humans. The Doughbot does not eliminate humans from the pizzamaking process but works with them — human workers add the pizza toppings, but the Doughbot is able to transfer pizzas to and from the oven with greater efficiency — its robot hands can withstand much hotter temperatures!

The employment of these robotic innovations is creating a new type of foodservice operation — replacing the traditional commercial kitchen with something more akin to a production assembly line, as you would find in a modern factory.

The overall focus is on reducing the costs of food production and associated logistics. The next step for Zume — already in place — is to cook pizzas on route to delivery using specially designed delivery vehicles equipped with ovens. This means that when a customer orders a pizza, it can be delivered piping hot and literally fresh from the oven.

Zume also uses predictive technology to determine how many pizzas of what type it should make each morning, so that less pizzas have to be made from scratch prior to delivery. It also has no traditional storefront — customers order through its website or mobile app. The system has enabled Zume to reduce its costs and therefore its retail prices. Using robots has maximised its production volume and also enabled it to offer an extensive range, with up to 60 ingredients along with dietary options like gluten free.

According to Zume’s CEO, the goal is not to eliminate humans from the process, but simply to remove them from laborious, repetitive tasks so they can be engaged more creatively in the business. Undeniably, the future will see robots engaged in a wide range of labour activities which were once the province of people - and given the exponential rate at which this technology is advancing, who knows what will be possible in ten or even five years’ time?