A little startup in Seattle is about to flip the pizza business. Literally.
The company is called Picnic and for the past few years it's been operating under the radar while it develops a propriety robot that makes pizzas. A lot of pizzas. Like, 300 pizzas in an hour.
According to Geekwire's James Thorne, who visited the company to take a peek at the pizza-making robots himself, he was surprised to find that the machines were far from industrial-looking. "Instead," he wrote. "It looked like a white, kitchen-sized iPhone. It could theoretically be installed in a food truck."
What the machine lacks in size, it makes up for in performance. According to Thorne - who tweeted a video of the model he looked at here - the machine will assemble up to 300 12-inch pizzas per hour, which is a lot faster than it takes a typical human. Plus, it will use fresh agreements and can be customized to offer additional toppings and whatever else the shop owner wants to make a unique pie. How much? An undisclosed monthly fee to cover software and hardware updates and maintenance, based on the volume of pizzas being made.
So what about jobs? Well, one pizza shop owner in Thorne's piece said it will "help existing staff work more efficiently." Baloney.
This technology - like many others of its kind - will definitely eliminate jobs. Yes, a pizza shop owner will still need to employ servers or managers and someone to roll the dough because that's the kind of thing - at least for now - that needs a human touch. But don't believe them otherwise: jobs will go. Does anyone actually think that business people invest in technology to add overhead? Of course not. Automation is definitely a job killer.
But that's only for some types of jobs: the unskilled, low-level work where employers are already having a difficult time finding people. Robotics will fix this problem eventually. Meanwhile, I believe, more - and better - jobs will be created as a result. Why?
Because think about the opportunities. Pizza shops are the quintessential small business. There are tens of thousands of them around the country, probably even more. Imagine being a pizza shop owner and, with a small investment, being able to cut your overhead by as much as a third, or even more. That same store owner can not only lower the cost of pizzas for everyone, but open more shops (or food trucks) and employ more people in the process. Many will do that.
Let's take this concept to manufacturing, where companies such as Automata, Rethink Robotics and Universal Robots are bringing their form of Picnic's robots to the shop floor for prices ranging from $7,500 to $25,000. That's lot less than you would pay for a full time employee - and these things don't need health insurance.
No, I'm not trying to be a smart aleck. It's just that technology like Picnic's - and other robotics companies - will enable American companies, from pizza shops to manufacturers, to make things almost as inexpensively as their counterparts in India or China. This not only solves the big headache of actually finding people to do this work, but it will also result in cheaper prices, a lower cost of entry for startups and more opportunities for American companies to compete worldwide and grow. When they grow, they will hire even more people to do the kind of work that machines will never be able to do.
"We are likely facing a new vision for work, one in which humans work at higher levels of productivity (think less work, but more output), thanks to co-existing with robots, working side-by-side personal robots, digital assistants, or artificial intelligence tools," writes technologist Jessica Quillin. "Rather than being bogged down by easily automated processes, humans can leverage robots to focus on more abstract, creative tasks, bringing about new innovative solutions."
So good for Picnic. Their technology will eliminate some jobs. But I believe it will create more.