David Chang and Reddit Really Don't Like Food Robots
But we do. We also like drones, free robot delivery, birthdays and... Barry Manilow.
It’s a PAZZI Pizza Picnic
I have long said that if you want to see the future of food technology, pay attention to pizza. With a $132 billion global market, there are a ton of automation players looking to get a slice of that pie, and all that competition has bred tons of innovation in pizza assembling robots, pizza vending machines and pizza delivery robots.
One company that’s been in the robotic pizza game for a long time is PAZZI over in France. The startup opened its first robo-pizzeria in June of 2019, and its second one in Paris in July of this year.
The PAZZI system holds 35 different ingredients and can make 10 pizzas at a time. The robots will make one pizza every 45 seconds, or 80 pizzas an hour and at full capacity will make 300 pizzas a day. To date, PAZZI has served up more than 45,000 pizzas.
As Pazzi Robotics CEO, Philippe Goldman explained to me this week, all of that real world experience was invaluable to his company, uncovering issues that never would have come up in a research lab. Goldman credits these actual, practical conditions for improving PAZZI’s computer vision, figuring out oven heating and helping them find the perfect pizza dough.
Papa John’s, Picnic, Middleby, PAZZI, XRobotics, Refraction AI to Speak
Speaking of Philippe Goldman, you’ll get the chance to hear directly from him at the OttOmate Pizza Automation Event being held online November 19 from 10 a.m. - noon Pacific time.
Who should attend? Any food automation startup coming to market, and restaurant brands that want to explore the future of food automation. We’ve got a great lineup of speakers including:
We’re finalizing a couple more speakers so stay tuned (if you think you should speak, drop me a line and pitch me! I’m actively looking for women and BIPOC speakers to provide a diverse set of viewpoints). Sponsorships are also available!
The event is online, so you can attend from anywhere, and we’re jam-packing a lot into a short amount of time, so it will fit right into your regular workday! Tickets are just $25, so reserve your spot today!
Reminder: Paid OttOmate subscribers get into this and all our online events as part of their subscription (and a subscription is less than the cost of a single ticket) So go subscribe to get your 100% off discount promo code.
David Chang and Reddit vs. the Machines
You know who I wish would attend the OttOmate pizza event? David Chang. Judging from the first episode of his new show The Next Thing You Eat, the celebrity chef does not like food robots. In particular, he seems to really not like the idea of pizza robots. As I wrote last week after watching the episode “Delivery: Rise of the Machines:”
That leads me to the other moment in the show where [Chang talks] with a pizza chef who crafts a beautiful artisanal pizza. They joke about whether a robot could do the same thing, and of course reject the notion. Again, here’s where Chang and Co. miss the point. Pizza robots aren’t meant to completely eradicate human pizza chefs.
Chang seems to view pizza robots in particular as an all-or-nothing proposition—that robots are gunning for every pizza chef. They aren’t. They’re meant for high volume and consistency. Sure Chang’s guest makes a mouthwatering pizza, but can she sit in a hotel lobby and crank them out 24 hours a day? (Nope.) Would she want to? (Double nope.)
But Chang isn’t the only one throwing pizza ‘bots under the bus lately. Online ire over pizza robots flared up on Reddit after an old demo video of Picnic’s system re-surfaced there this week. Based on the thousands of comments, we learned that people still view robots mainly as job killers that make an inferior product and also require arduous cleaning.
What this tells me is that food automation startups and restaurants that use food robots need to start overcommunicating now about the benefits — and repercussions — around automation. Yes, there will be job losses, but there will be entirely new jobs created. Yes, the robots will pump out hundreds of the exact same dishes, but there are passionate, talented people making the menus. Yes, the robots are coming to restaurants, but no, they will not take over every restaurant.
I posted a story about the Reddit pizza robot ruckus and what it means for the industry this week, but the real conversation happened over on Linkedin. In addition to generating thousands of views, we got some really thoughtful comments about what startups and restaurants need to do today so we aren’t having these same complaints tomorrow. Food automation trade association, anyone? (For real, if you’re interested in that email me.)
Find and Hire Diverse Tech Talent with Per Scholas
Many robot hands make light work
Bobby Healy, the CEO of Manna posted a video to Linkedin yesterday showing a robot arm automatically swapping out battery packs on a delivery drone. On its face alone this is pretty cool — something akin to when jets re-fuel in mid-air. This type of battery swapping would allow drones to fly longer, make more deliveries and thus generate more revenue!
But the simple robo-battery swap got me thinking more broadly about all of the opportunities there are in the delivery chain. Automated delivery isn’t simply two points on a line: restaurant → home. What Manna’s battery tests illustrate is that there are lots of emerging nooks and crannies all along the path food takes from a restaurant to your front door that new startups could fill. For Manna, one add-on is a robot arm to automatically switch batteries, but on the other end of that delivery flight, there’s potentially Valqari, which makes landing pad/smart lockers for residential drone drop-offs (even to apartment building windows).
We’re starting to see more daisy-chaining of robotic services. Over in South Korea, Woowa Brothers is working with companies like Hyundai to automate robots riding in elevators. Here in the U.S., Piestro is working with Kiwibot to have robots pickup pizza from vending machines (again with the pizza!).
Food robotics is still very new (and still has a lot to prove), but we’re already at a stage where new types of robot picks and shovels are being created to support the emerging automation gold rush.
Is free robot delivery the new college perk?
Forget fancy stadiums or opulent dorm rooms, the cool new perk for universities to attract students is free robot delivery.
Starship’s delivery robots rolled out to North Carolina Agricultural and Technical State University (NC A&T) this week, and as part of the deal, the HBCU is paying the delivery fee (typically ~$2) for students for the next two years.
The school is getting a fleet of 20 delivery robots that will initially serve from three on-campus eateries. But big whoop, a lot of colleges are getting robot delivery thanks to Starship and Kiwibot. What we haven’t seen before is a school stepping in and paying the robot delivery fees. How much will this spur adoption of the service on NC A&T, and more important — will this prod other schools to do the same? (Yes. Yes it will.)
Barney bots will serve you booze or your morning brew
Leave it to the Swiss to engineer the perfect combination of drink robots. Meet Barney Bar, which will craft cocktails when you’re out on the town at night. And should you wake up a little, errr, groggy after that night out, meet his brother, Barney Barista, which will bring you back to life (back to reality) with a finely crafted coffee drink.
Both Barneys are products of F&P Robotics, which is using the pair of robots for a pair of reasons, actually. The Barney bots are their own business, being sold and installed at different locations around the world. But the Barney bros are also a way for F&P to showcase its robotic arm.
And if you want a sense of all the major players in the robot booze space, check out the 🔒OttOmate Guide to Robot Bartenders.
Grocery automation startup pick and packs some cheddar
Fabric, which makes robot-powered automated fulfillment for grocery and other retailers, announced this week that it has raised a $200 million Series C round of funding led by existing investor Temasek.
The news is worth mentioning for a few reasons. One, $200 million is a nice chunk of change for any startup. Second, the funding is coming at a time when the latest data shows U.S. consumers are sticking with online grocery shopping. Brick Meets Click’s September survey showed grocery pickup and delivery sales remained high at $6.4 billion. So there is plenty of grocery e-commerce that can be fulfilled with automation. Finally, the fresh capital tops off a good year for Fabric, which also included fulfillment deals with both Walmart and Instacart.
If you really want to know more about the grocery biz, check out the podcast I did recently with Grocery Dive’s Lead Editor, Jeff Wells. It’s available now to everyone.
Related note: I apologize, but there is no new podcast this week. Some guests needed to re-schedule. Don’t worry, it’ll be back next week!
It’s my birthday this week, so I’m taking the rest of today and tomorrow off.
For my birthday, I would love it if the OttOmate readers can give a gift to someone who needs it. Someone like Mr. Kimmel, who has this project over on DonorsChoose (my favorite charity).
Young Engineers Need STEM Robotics
Help me give my students Spike Prime Robotics kits for STEM learning
These Spike Prime LEGO robotics kits will provide students with the real life engineering and science of robots. experiences they need. With these hands-on robotics tools students will be inspired to explore, uncover and discover the world of robotics. With the ever increasing use of automation and the need for future robotics engineers these materials will bring advance STEM learning to our young scientists.
The money goes to 6 - 8th graders in Sullivan STEAM Magnet school in Minneapolis, Minnesota. From the campaign page: “At this school, more than 50% of students are Black, Latinx, and/or Native American, and more than 50% come from low-income households.”
I don’t know Mr. Kimmel, or this school. I picked it because the project just needs $384 to be completed—and we can do that! Let’s motivate, OttOmate! Help some kids learn about robotics!
To sweeten the deal, if you give to this, or any Robotics-related program on DonorsChoose, I will give you the Chris’ Birthday Discount — an additional 10% off a new OttOmate subscription (monthly or annual)! (Doing so would mean you could totally go to the pizza automation event!)
Thanks for reading.
Stay cool. Have a great summer. Class of ‘90 rulez.