Pie in the Sky

A robot pizza delivery startup that raised almost half a billion dollars has shut down after a series of technological setbacks, according to The Information.

The company, founded back in 2015, was working on a mobile pizza-making machine for years, but struggled to turn it into a reality. As a result, the company pivoted to working on sustainable packaging back in 2020.

But given the fact that the company ended up "insolvent," per The Information, that new direction hasn't worked out for them, either.

It's a shocking turn given the sheer amount of money investors — including $375 million from multinational giant SoftBank, which is renowned for its poor investments like the infamous WeWork — have poured into the startup. And in an even broader sense, it once again shows that even as AI makes incredible strides in the market, practical robotics ventures remain enduring difficult.

Cheese Slide

As it turns out, it's not easy building a mechanical pizzaiolo. The startup has been stumbling for years.

According to Bloomberg, the company struggled to physically keep melting cheese from sliding off pies that were being baked in its moving trucks.

In early 2020, the company laid off over half of its workers before being bought by the appropriately named compostable packaging company Pivot Packaging. At the time, Zume CEO Alex Garden blamed the cuts on the pandemic and a number of deals that fell through, according to Insider.

Stuffed Bust

Surprisingly, the robot pizza industry is much bigger than one might think. Zume is only one of several robotic pizza-making companies in Silicon Valley trying to automate pizza-making. For instance, Stellar Pizza, which was founded by former SpaceX engineers, is working on a robot that can make dough, roll it out, and cover it in various toppings before baking it.

In a broader context, the stakes aren't exactly high either — despite the ludicrous amount of funding.

"We’re not trying to be the Italian, fresh-out-of-the-oven, Neapolitan pizza," Stellar Pizza CEO and co-founder Benson Tsai, who has been headhunting other SpaceX alumni for his new venture, admitted to Bloomberg earlier this year, adding that the company is aiming to compete with Domino's, rather than high-artisanal pizzerias.

More on pizza startups: Guy Quits SpaceX, Creates Pizza Making Robot That "Dumped Melted Cheese Everywhere"

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