“Everyone loves pizza.”
It was this simple observation that led former SpaceX engineer Benson Tsai on a new mission: to improve pizza for everyone.
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âI was previously an engineer at SpaceX where I designed battery systems for the spacecraft and the satellites,â Tsai explained at his new headquarters just down the road from his former employer.
Tsai is the founder of Stellar pizza, a startup that creates a chain of high-tech pizzas with pies made by robots.
âThe goal of automation is to deliver food to people in a better, faster, and more affordable way,â Tsai explained.
It took two years for his team of engineers, mostly former SpaceX employees, to develop a highly automated pizza machine. Kind of a Rube Goldberg contraption, but the result is hot and fresh pizza.
I saw the sprawling machine in a warehouse, but the plan is to put them in the backs of giant trucks, sort of pizzerias on wheels.
First, the truck will park at various locations around town, such as a food truck pop-up restaurant. You order with an app, then go get your pie.
Ultimately, the plan is to have an entire fleet of robotic pizza trucks cruising through cities everywhere, with fresh pizzas made in the back and delivered to people’s homes.
The process begins with the robot picking up a ball of dough, then squeezing it to form a crust. The crust is then loaded with sauce, cheese and any toppings ordered by the user. The pepperoni is sliced ââfresh because it turns out it’s easier than having robot arms trying to place each piece of pepperoni.
Then, automated scoops like arms place the pizzas in one of four ovens that cooks 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 wraps them. A robot will eventually override this process as well, so that a human will never actually touch the pizza itself until it is served to customers.
âWe have a great team of rocket scientists who are building one of the most advanced kitchens on the market,â Tsai said.
The machine can spit out a pizza every 45 seconds. So what does robot pizza taste like?
In fact, really good. Stellar says they’ve done a lot of research into making pizza with high quality ingredients and it shows.
The crust was light and airy but still crispy. The sauce was perfect and the cheese and other toppings were tasty and perfectly browned. I was impressed (remember I’m from NJ, I know my pizza).
I bought two home pizzas for my family to try, and they all agreed it was excellent. New York City doesn’t get a good slice on a street corner, but it’s pizza for the masses that tastes better than mass pizza.
Stellar plans to open its first traveling truck in the spring of 2022 in Los Angeles and then expand from there. You order the pizza from an app; a cheese costs $ 7 and a supreme $ 10.
As for the idea that humans are losing jobs in this automated process?
âFor us, this is a more meaningful distribution of the workforce. We want to put people where they interact with customers, that’s the real added value of a human in a very repetitive process, âTsai concluded.
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