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Will Robots Replace Humans in Food Industry?

  • Faiza Elmasry

It's likely that the pizza you order in the near future from a nearby pizzeria will be prepared and baked by a robot. That's what many pizza makers, including Zume, a new startup in Mountain View, California, are experimenting with these days.

Zume has acquired two robots that work tirelessly, and for free. When the pie is perfectly covered with sauce and other toppings, the robot puts it in the oven.

The company hopes the robots will increase profits. Zume CEO and founder Julia Collins says robot workers are not getting salaries and they don’t get sick.

"We spend less money on repetitive labor, so things like slicing pepperoni or applying cheese," she explains, “We automate those repetitive tasks, so that we can spend more money on higher quality ingredients."

Customer, Charity Suzuki, says she likes it.

"It's always hot and fresh when it comes,” she adds. “I mean it's great that they're making it, but I can't tell the difference that it's made by a robot versus a human."

Zume's biggest innovation is yet to come, a delivery truck equipped with 56 ovens. The truck circles a neighborhood, and at precisely three minutes, 15 seconds before arriving at the customer's door, the pizza is popped in to bake.

The company also shortens delivery times by using software to anticipate when and what kind of pizzas customers will order.

Robot prepares sandwiches

Bistrobot, is another company that uses robots in preparing food.

Bistrobot CEO and founder, Jay Reppert says customers are welcome to watch the machine putting together their meal order.

"You can buy a sandwich for a few dollars and you get to watch this really cool machine make you a sandwich,” he says. “And it has all the other advantages: where it's quicker, it's cheaper, it's more consistent, and it's just this really fun experience to share with people."

Machines vs. humans

Experts say this is a growing trend in the food industry, but they insist robots still struggle with tasks that require more refined motor skills.

University of California Berkeley Automation Lab Director Ken Goldberg says the research has been going on for 50 years.

"We're making progress, but it's still a challenge,” he adds. “So I want to reassure restaurant workers that the skills that they have are still going to be of value."

Zume Co-founder and Chairman, Alex Garden, agrees. He says there's still plenty of work left for humans to do.

"We're going to see a big change in the way that humans work again, but it's going to have the same impact,” he explains. “We're going to eliminate boring, repetitive, dangerous jobs and we're going to free up people to do things that are higher value. There's going to be amazing new ways of working that don't exist yet that are going to be created."

So what we're seeing here is just the beginning, and one thing to expect is more robots in the kitchen.

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