by: Rich DeMuro
“Everybody loves pizza.”
It’s that simple observation that led former SpaceX engineer Benson Tsai on a new mission: to improve pizza for everyone.
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“I was previously an engineer at SpaceX where i designed battery systems for the spaceship and satellites,” explained Tsai at his new headquarters just down the road from his former employer.
Tsai is the founder of Stellar Pizza, a startup that’s creating a high tech, pizza chain with the pies made by robots.
“The goal with the automation is to get food delivered to people in a better, faster, more affordable way,” explained Tsai.
It took his team of engineers, mostly also former SpaceX employees, two years to develop a highly automated pizza making machine. Sort of a Rube Goldberg contraption, but the result is a hot and fresh pizza.
I saw the sprawling machine in a warehouse, but the plan is to install them in the back of giant box trucks, sort of a pizza restaurant on wheels.
First, the truck will park in various places around the city, like a pop-up food truck restaurant. You order with an app, then go pick up your pie.
Eventually, the plan is to have an entire fleet of robot pizza trucks roaming cities everywhere, with fresh pizzas being made in the back and delivered to people’s homes.
The process starts with the robot picking up a ball of dough, then pressing it out to a crust. The crust is then loaded with sauce, cheese, and any toppings the user orders. Pepperoni is sliced fresh because it turns out that’s easier than having robot arms attempt to place each individual piece of pepperoni.
Next, automated shovel like arms place the pizzas into one of four ovens which cook them in just over 2 minutes.
The same arms take the finished pizzas out of the ovens and send them on a conveyor belt to be finished by a human, who cuts and boxes them up. A robot will eventually replace this process as well, so a human will never actually touch the pizza itself before it’s served to customers.
“We’ve got an excellent team of rocket scientists building one of the most advanced kitchens out there,” said Tsai.
The machine can spit out a pizza every 45 seconds. So how does robot pizza taste?
Actually, really good. Stellar says they did a lot of research on making pizza with high quality ingredients and it shows.
The crust was light and airy but still crispy. The sauce was on point and the cheese and other toppings were tasty and perfectly browned. I was impressed (keep in mind I’m from NJ, I know my pizza).
I bought home two pizzas for my family to try, and they all agreed it was excellent. Not New York City get a slice on a street corner good, but this is pizza for the masses that tastes better than mass pizza.
Stellar plans to open its first roving truck in Spring 2022 in Los Angeles, then expand from there. You order the pizza from an app; a cheese goes for $7 and a supreme $10.
As for the whole idea that humans lose out on jobs in this automated process?
“For us it’s about more meaningful allocation of labor. We want to put people where they’re interacting with customers, that’s the actual value add of a human in a very repetitive process,” concluded Tsai.
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