Robot chef firm’s billion pound valuation raises the stakes in kitchen automation game

The true growth potential of robotic kitchen chefs has been laid bare after a US firm behind an automatic pizza concept received an investment that values the business at an astonishing £1.25 billion (£952m).

Robotics firm Zume, whose systems prep and bake pizzas, has reportedly just raised $375m (£286m) from Japanese bank Softbank and it is thought that another investor could be looking at injecting a similar amount.

Zume has not commented on the situation, except to confirm that it recently closed a round of funding to “support our growth and hiring”.

The business was started three years ago and uses robotics, automation and mobile kitchen technologies to produce food. It also runs a business that uses delivery trucks with onboard kitchens.

US technology website TechCrunch reported that Zume created a larger umbrella company earlier this year to house Zume Pizza, now a subsidiary of Zume. It is thought the move reflects its desire to expand beyond pizza and license its technology to restaurants looking to deploy food trucks.

“Pizza was our prototype,” Zume CEO Alex Garden told the publication. “There’s no reason why this technology wouldn’t work for any restaurant or any food category. Any restaurant who wants to adopt our system can now easily do that. They don’t have to be experts in technology or appliance manufacturing. They can just be restaurateurs, who have a more flexible offering for customers.”

In June, Zume announced the launch of ‘Vincenzo’, its smartest and most precise food robot to date. It can recognise when a pizza crust hits peak par bake perfection before strategically taking out each crust from the kitchen’s 800°C oven and moving it into a 1.25-inch, 27 shelved pizza rack.

It leverages its six-axis mobility, speed and accuracy to index one of these shelves, filling four separate racks at a time. Without tearing the dough or dropping toppings, it can fill an entire pizza rack within four and a half minutes.

Inside one of Zume’s Food Delivery Vehicles, which is equipped with customisable foodservice appliances to produce food en route to customers.

The robot bases its decisions on Zume Pizza’s proprietary predictive analytics to recognise which pizza corresponds with each rack slot.

Zume claims the use of “human-centric automation” makes its kitchen among the safest in the world, citing statistics that claim one-third of occupational burns occur in restaurants.

Zume also partnered with foodservice equipment manufacturer Welbilt this year in a move that has allowed it to launch the second-generation of its Food Delivery Vehicles equipped with hyper-efficient, customisable foodservice appliances.

Unlike traditional food trucks and delivery vehicles, which cannot cook while moving, Zume optimises the baking and delivery process to ensure a customer’s meal is delivered at peak freshness.

To make this happen, Zume predicts what customers will order and when, so that the Food Delivery Vehicles are optimised to cook and arrive at the delivery location without using chemical stabilsers to preserve food.

Zume’s latest trucks are powered with six high-efficiency ovens, which can bake 120 pizzas per hour. Welbilt has pledged to create solutions that incorporate a significant portion of its portfolio of custom-built appliances into the vehicles, including products such as steamers, griddles and broilers.

There is considerable activity taking place around the topic of automated kitchens at the moment.

French start-up EKIM is working with Universal Robots on a pizza-making robot called ‘PAZZI’, which is capable of making up to 10 pizzas simultaneously from nearly 5 million recipe combinations on a 24-hour basis. It intends to launch a raft of sites in 2019.

And Pizza Hut has teamed up with Toyota on a new venture that will see robotic chefs prepare and cook pizza from the inside of converted Tundra SR5 pick-up trucks.

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

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