Do Pizza-Making Robots and High-Tech Delivery Trucks Mean Dystopia — or More Dough?

While the restaurant and hospitality industry is people-driven, any way you slice it, you can't deny that technology is changing how we're approaching customer service — and Zume Pizza knows that innovation isn't just a pie in the sky.

And no, not merely because their pizza boxes are made of sustainably farmed sugarcane fiber and are 100-percent recyclable and compostable. This one-year-old Silicon Valley startup makes more than 200 pizzas a day, all thanks to its team of robots. (And about four to six people in the kitchen.) 

Each robot has a name and a specific job, according to CNN Tech. John and Pepe layer on the sauce, Marta spreads it evenly to near-circle perfection, and Bruno slides the pies into the oven. Perhaps this science is to be expected, considering this brand is just two miles away from Google headquarters, but that's not the most impressive part about Zume.

This concept is delivery-only, and their pizzas hit the streets with a method just as savvy as their kitchens: a high-tech delivery truck complete with 56 ovens programmed to bake the pies while they're traveling to customers, which prevents them from getting cold before hungry mouths can dig in.

The robot Vincenzo "mans" the responsibility of loading those pizzas into the truck's ovens. Two human employees, the driver and someone to assist with the boxing, are the only ones on staff when it comes to these deliveries.

Marta doing her magic. The Zume kitchen is open from 11am-11pm today. #flickofthewrist #saucin' 🍅

A video posted by Zume Pizza 🍕 (@zumepizza) on

Is this just the beginning of an "I, Robot"-esque dystopian plotline? Or could this be the beginning of a more profitable future for foodservice?

"We're a co-bot situation," Zume Pizza Founder and CEO Julia Collins said to CNBC. "There are humans and robots collaborating to make better food, to make more fulfilling jobs, and to make a more stable working environment for the folks that are working with us."

How do the presence of robots make these jobs more fulfilling? For one, the more repetitive and time-consuming tasks are taken care of first. Although this sparks a debate on whether or not this process takes away from the "artisan" touch of pizza-making, Zume robots saucing the pies and loading them into 800-degree ovens do so hundreds of times a day, increasing staff efficiency.

"That's a highly repetitive task and one that can be dangerous for human beings, so integrating robots into that makes a lot of sense," Collins said. 

These robots cost between $25,000 and $35,000, but the CEO asserts this initial cost is easily paid off, considering that these costs are much less than the salary and benefits of human employees.

This new model of replacing chefs with bots cuts labor costs, but Zume Pizza — which now only spends 14 percent of its earnings on payroll, compared to Domino's 30 percent — reinvests in the human employees who are a part of the company.

Zume's human workers, whether they are a programmer, delivery driver, or in the kitchen, all receive subsidized health, vision, and dental coverage. Zume will also contribute to employee education if those classes allow their team members to move to different sectors of the brand as their kitchen becomes more and more automated.

Tuesday night pizza cravings 😋🍕 #Sonrisa #VeggiePizza #DailyPizza

A video posted by Zume Pizza 🍕 (@zumepizza) on

Only about 50 people make up their team, a majority in the kitchen and in the truck, while the rest are in executive, management, or engineering positions. Fewer staff members also means better pay. Compared to bigger brands such as Domino's, Pizza Hut, and Papa John's whose delivery drivers only make $8 an hour plus tips, Zume Pizza delivery drivers make an average of $18 an hour, and Zume Pizza reaffirms to customers that deliveries are always cashless and free, "no tipping, please. :)"

Where else does Zume put its profits toward? With its creative menu that features fresh and gluten-free options, Zume Pizza is committed to using locally sourced ingredients. Due to the funds saved from automation, a barrier other concepts and fast casuals have faced, this robot-friendly restaurant is able to get its goods from organic farms in the area. As more and more restaurants become automated — and the reality is that artificial intelligence designed to handle routine human tasks can impact up to 60 percent of U.S. jobs — perhaps more will be inclined to buy local to a greater extent, as well.

"We hope to see more growth [in high-quality food], as an industry, as a result of these [automation] companies," Collins said to Quartz.

Justifiably, groups of people are concerned about job security once automation and technology gradually replace human labor. Artificial intelligence will surely spread to other areas in foodservice and other markets as time goes on. CNBC cited a Forrester report that stated about 6 percent of careers in customer service, trucking, and taxi services will be eliminated within five years by robots. 

But in Collins' eyes, she assures that the company will always need human employees for food preparation, recipe development, and response to customer feedback. She also said that the American workforce has constantly learned to adapt to increasing technology since the Industrial Revolution, and she wholeheartedly believes that the country will continue to do so, even with these major movements. 

"I think history will ultimately prove that we've created more jobs in automation," she said. Read More