Zuma, a pizza delivery startup run by robots, has gone out of business because the droids couldn't keep the cheese from falling off the pies.
Take a break from worrying about the impending AI-driven apocalypse to laugh about a faulty pizza robot that can’t cut the mustard—or should we say, marinara. A robot pizza delivery startup has officially shut down despite raising almost half a billion dollars through crowdsourcing. According to The Byte, Zume, founded in 2015, has been trying to make droid-produced pizza a thing for years, but they just can’t seem to solve the slidey cheese equation.
Apparently, hot mozzarella + moving pizza truck = no profit, as the company found out the hard way. Zume struggled for a long time trying to keep melting cheese from sliding off their robot pizzas before finally giving up and switching to sustainable packaging. In 2020 Zume laid off half its workers and was purchased by compostable packaging company Pivot Packaging.
However, Zume’s new direction didn’t work out for them any better than the one where robots put Teflon cheese on big pucks of dough, and the company is currently in dire straits. It’s a surprising end to Zume’s robot pizza endeavor considering all the capital they managed to raise as a fledgling company. SoftBank alone invested $375 million in Zume—funds they’re unlikely to get back from the failed business.
Meanwhile, other robot pizza companies are also struggling to make the dream of a Chicago deep dish cooked by R2D2 a reality. One such rival, Stellar Pizza, was formed by former SpaceX engineer Benson Tsai. Tsai, believe it or has cheese-related problems of his own.
Stellar Pizza once set up a demonstration of its prototype pizza machine right across the street from ex-Boss Elon Musk‘s SpaceX headquarters in Hawthorne, California. The demonstration came to a premature end when Stellar’s culinary C-3PO started hurling cheese everywhere. Definitely not the result one wants when showing off in front of a former employer.
While Artificial Intelligence continues its unstoppable rampage across the internet, physical robotics seems to have a lot of difficulties it still needs to overcome. Namely, how to get cheese to simply lie there—arguably, the dairy product’s default setting everywhere robots aren’t making pizza. It’s particularly frustrating considering the low bar that Zume and Stellar Pizza were trying to clear.
“We’re not trying to be the Italian, fresh-out-of-the-oven, Neapolitan pizza,” admitted Stellar CEO Benson Tsai. Tsai later added that these automated pizza experiments are looking to compete with fast-food pizza chain Domino’s and not your local neighborhood pizzeria. Presumably, Zume was also aiming to take on someone like Papa Gino’s and not somewhere that makes artisanal pies.
When you factor in things like apathetic delivery drivers, orders that are cold when they’re delivered, and the tendency Domino’s Pizza has to adopt the taste of the cardboard it’s packaged in, it’s surprising that Zume didn’t just bring their product to market as is. For many customers, a robot pizza with slidey cheese still beats what they normally settle for from a chain pizza place. And the best part about having a robot make/deliver your pizza?
You don’t have to tip a robot! Kind of makes mobile cheese worth it, now, doesn’t it?