Zume Pizza robot

Saudi-backed fund invests in pizza-making robots

Image credit: Zume Pizza

Zume Pizza – a start-up focused on developing robots to automate pizza making – has received $375m (£290m) in investment from SoftBank.

In 2016, Japanese billionaire investor Masayoshi Son announced the creation of the $100bn (£77bn) SoftBank Vision Fund, which he promised would help accelerate the Information Revolution. The fund draws heavily (an estimated 45 per cent) from the sovereign wealth fund of Saudi Arabia.

Following the death of journalist Jamal Khashoggi – who had been strongly critical of the current regime, and particularly its intervention in Yemen – in the Saudi consulate in Istanbul, Turkey, the Saudi leadership has been widely condemned by other world leaders. Notably, German Chancellor Angela Merkel has halted German arms exports to Saudi Arabia.

Many high-profile figures in technology also took a stand against the Saudi regime by refusing to attend the country’s Future Investment Initiative following Khashoggi’s disappearance. These included Virgin founder Richard Branson, who suspended a lucrative space tourism project planned with the kingdom, Uber CEO Dara Khosrowshahi, former head of AOL Steve Case, and Son, who is now CEO of the SoftBank Vision Fund.

In a break from the grim revelations emerging about the nature of Khashoggi’s death, the SoftBank Vision Fund has made its first investment since the incident – in a start-up which uses robots to prepare and cook pizza.

According to public records, Zume Pizza has recently received an investment of $375m (£290m), which the Wall Street Journal has reported is sourced from the Saudi-backed Vision Fund. Reports suggest that this is merely the first of two cash injections from the fund, which could bring the company to a total value of $2.25bn (£1.73bn).

The California-based company, which was founded in 2016, works to use robots for several stages of pizza production, including application of tomato sauce and cooking. Most unusually, Zume automates the cooking of the pizzas during delivery, using vans fitted with GPS-equipped ovens and self-cleaning automatic pizza cutters. The company plans to collaborate with partners to automate the preparation of other types of food.  

The pizza-making robots cost between $25,000 and $35,000 (between £19,000 and £27,000) each, and are manufactured by ABB.

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