Does this three-armed robot chef represent the future of tomorrow’s pizza kitchens?

A French start-up is bidding to accelerate the way pizza is produced and served by developing a kitchen robot capable of carrying out multiple tasks at once. FEJ explores whether the ‘autonomous restaurant’ really is the king of all game-changers.

It was the shared observation that fast food often leaves consumers disappointed that led Sebastian Roverso and Cyrill Hamon to ponder the ways in which the foodservice sector could benefit from much greater automation.

The two young French engineers were frustrated that service tended to be slower than expected, customers were given very limited options to change the menu and opening hours were rarely adapted to the new rhythms of work — all of which adds up to constant dissatisfaction.

They were convinced that technology could solve all these problems and set about inventing a system capable of working faster, safer and cheaper than any chef could manage.

Their business, Ekim, was founded five years ago and, having recently secured £2.2m (£1.9m) in funding from private equity firms Partech and Daphni, they are now firmly on course to open a completely autonomous restaurant by the end of this year.

What’s more they have some very credible supporters. Jérôme Tafani, CEO of Burger King France, is now on Ekim’s strategic committee, while Thierry Graffagnino, a triple pizza world champion, provides all the dough and pizza recipes.

Ekim’s autonomous restaurant brand will trade under the name ‘Pazzi’ and feature its flagship ‘pizzaiolo robot’, which can make a pizza from scratch once the customer’s order has been received. The robot’s gestures are designed to match those of real-life pizza chefs, and with three arms it can produce several pizzas at the same time. Customers will have the possibility to choose from 500,000 combinations of recipes, the firm says.

Chief executive, Philippe Goldman, who joined the business from L’Oreal, told Reuters: “We are not faster than a pizzaiolo as we make a pizza in four minutes and 30 seconds because the pizzas are made on demand in front of the customer, we take time to cook them well, to put the ingredients on.

“But the robot has three arms, can co-ordinate tasks and make several pizzas at once. So yes, making a pizza takes four minutes 30 seconds but we deliver one pizza every 30 seconds, which allows us to deliver 120 pizzas an hour when a pizzaiolo can only make 40 pizzas an hour.”

Goldman says the pizzaiolo robot could essentially work in a similar way to a vending machine. “People nowadays have less and less available time to eat, they hardly have 30 minutes to have lunch. Therefore, they have to choose between time and food quality. What we’re doing is providing both,” he told Reuters.

Ekim has been seeking out suitable locations for the Pazzi pilot in Paris and Ile-de-France. The owners have global ambitions for their creation and have already confirmed they are open to franchising and licensing the concept in 2019, including seated restaurant, takeaway, food court and drive-thru formats. With the potential for 24/7 opening and a 30-second execution speed, the founders believe it could prove to be the optimal foodservice solution for high traffic flow areas, including stations, airports, shopping centres and campuses.

The company says that thanks to the mixture of robots, apps and data analysis that the sites will use, Pazzi will lead the fight against ‘junk food’ and offer customers an enhanced dining experience through “higher quality ingredients, optimal service time, ultra-personalised service and guaranteed entertainment”.

As the robots are fully autonomous from order to delivery, they don’t require any human intervention. Will they be able to run a busy pizza kitchen without disaster?

The opening of the first store in France later this year will offer the clearest indication yet of whether robots really are the future.

CEO: “I initially thought concept was completely mad”

‘Pazzi’ means ‘mad’ in Italian and that was the word that immediately sprang to Ekim CEO Philippe Goldman’s mind when he learned of the idea for robotic pizza chefs two years ago.

“Pazzi represents a huge technological challenge: optimising the total production process of a pizza (order, preparation, baking and delivery) within a 45m2 area, customising each order and adding a show-cooking dimension, all at a reasonable investment cost,” he says.

“These are the challenges we faced during the four-year R&D phase. Yet this project would not make sense had we not included the search for ingredients of the highest quality. The objective is not only to conquer the global fast food market of over €900 billion (£796m), but as well to move away from junk food — a global public health concern — and also to extend our offer to the foodservice industry. The food ‘robolution’ is around the corner.”

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