Can you taste the difference between a pizza made by a robot and a pizza made by a human?
At Zume Pizza, co-founder Julia Collins doesn't think so. Which is exactly why the Mountain View, California, company has decided to outsource part of the pizza-making process to general-purpose robots.
When a customer places an order through the website or the app, a human spreads the dough onto a conveyor belt. Robots squirt tomato sauce and spread it across the base before it reaches the next human, who covers it in toppings.
A six-axis ABB robot -- typically used for pallet-stacking operations in factories -- picks up the pizza and places it into the 800-degree oven.
Cameras and optical sensors track progress along the way so the robots know thickness, size and rate of travel as the pizza goes down the line. At maximum capacity, the system can produce up to 5,000 pizzas each day, though they're not quite there yet.
But the automation gets more interesting when pizzas are out for delivery in the specially designed truck.
Par-cooked by the first oven, the pizza finishes baking in one 56 computerized ovens in the truck. Operated by the driver, a self-cleaning pizza cutter slices the pie evenly right after the bake.
You don't need to worry about rush hour causing you to receive a soggy pizza, either. "[Each oven] actually uses an algorithm that is a combination of GPS, but also real-time drive data, and that allows us to account for things like traffic delays, or any other anomalies that occur on the delivery route," said Collins.
Going forward, the idea isn't to automate the entirety of the pizza-making process, but to make it a collaborative effort between humans and robots.
"I don't believe that full-scale automation is the answer to any problem involving food," said Collins. "You will always need human beings when you're making food and serving it to people. What we're talking about is task replacement as opposed to occupation replacement."
Zume Pizza isn't the first company to experiment with new methods of pizza delivery. Domino's has been testing pizza-delivery drones in New Zealand and tried a prototype robot delivery system in Australia.
Zume is currently delivering within a small radius in Mountain View but will be expanding to Palo Alto, Menlo Park, Sunnyvale, Atherton and Los Gatos in the next month. By the end of the year, delivery will extend to San Jose, Milpitas, Cupertino and other neighborhoods in the south San Francisco Bay area.
Here's a look at Zume Pizza in 360 degrees.