This post is part of our ongoing coverage of the TechCrunch Disrupt conference.
SAN FRANCISCO—"A national network of robot-enabled food assembly lines."
That's what Julia Collins says her company, Zume Pizza, is working to implement. In addition to robots that take humans' places performing "low-skill, repetitive and dangerous tasks," the company's tech is able to make precise bets on what kind of pizza to make and uses AI to forecast demand. Oh, and the pizza is also baked en route, thanks to a high-tech delivery vehicle.
Joined by Miso Robotics founder Dave Zito, who has built a hamburger-making robot with the support of fast-food company CaliBurger, Collins discussed AI and robotics within the food industry in a panel titled "Rise of the Robo Chefs" on Day 2 of TechCrunch Disrupt.
Zume came prepared: Its pizza truck, featured above, was out front serving pizza to hungry conference attendees.
Companies say robotic kitchen assistants won't take jobs"We can help create a renaissance in the culinary industry," Collins said, "and lead to a net positive job growth."
As with many conversations surrounding AI and robotics, jobs—or the potential lack thereof—were discussed, with the moderator suggesting both companies' technology was "in essence, replacing jobs."
The founders disagreed.
"Human beings cook with love," Collins said. "People need that in their food. But people don't need to stick their hand in an 800-degree oven or do the same task for six hours. We are talking about automating tasks."
Collins also touched on the added social benefits of AI-enabled robots in the kitchen. "Right now we have a food crisis in America," she said. "We have folks at the top of the pyramid who can go to Whole Foods. ... But people at the middle of the pyramid are really struggling—we want to provide high-quality, delicious meals that are affordable."
Zume and Miso's VC fundingZume was valued at $50 million following a $22.7 million round in December. The company has plans to become the ultimate platform for food-related robotics, going so far as comparing itself to Amazon in its early days when it was solely an online bookseller.
For its part, Miso pulled in a $3 million Series A at a $10.5 million valuation in June. On stage at Disrupt, Zito offered Collins what looked like a sales pitch, as he explained why a partnership between their two companies would be mutually beneficial. (So, stay tuned for a possible deal.)
Zume and Miso aren't the only startups leveraging the capabilities of AI and robotics to streamline the fast-food and food-delivery industries.
Momentum Machines, another hamburger-focused robotics manufacturer, was valued at $94 million following a $18.4 million round in June. Dispatch, which builds food-delivery robots, raised $2 million in seed funding in 2016, and Marble, also the maker of courier robots, secured $4 million in seed funding around the same time.
And these are just a few examples. Clearly, food tech is a space to watch.
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