Sunday, April 16, 2017

Sunday Globe Flashback: Cold Pizza For Breakfast

Leftovers from lunch:

"Artisanal pizza — with a robot’s personal touch" by Maura Judkis Washington Post  November 05, 2016

WASHINGTON — When robots inevitably take over our planet, as the dystopian vision of science fiction writers foretells, we’ll lose our jobs, our freedom, our humanity. But take comfort in one thing the robots will provide for us lowly carbon-based life-forms: artisanal pizza.


They’re already making it in a commercial kitchen in the heart of Silicon Valley: Two robots named Pepe and Giorgio squirt sauce on dough, and another robot, Marta, spreads it. A robotic arm named Bruno puts the pizza in the oven. They don’t operate independently from humans yet — two or three people still load the dough onto the conveyor and sprinkle cheese and toppings — but Zume Pizza in Mountain View expects to be fully automated by spring, delivering made-to-order, customizable pizzas in as little as seven minutes.

Say it with a straight face: artisanal robotic pizza. Like jumbo shrimp and boneless ribs, it seems like a culinary oxymoron. For many years, our culture has fostered a movement that rewards people who grow and prepare food with thoughtfulness, by hand. We’re all about knowing your farmer, shopping small and local, and caring about the human stories behind the food we eat.

In seemingly direct contrast to that stands technology. Some of the same purveyors who are part of that movement are looking for ways to maximize efficiency and cut costs as their businesses grow.

I knew there was a reason I had an up$et $tomach.

‘‘There’s a connotation with ‘artisan’ that speaks to an artist behind it,’’ said Sarah Weiner, director of the Good Food Foundation. ‘‘I am not sure that robots have evolved to the point where they can convey emotion and meaning.’’

It really is a self-centered pre$$.

Maybe not, but there are now robots that can reflect and simulate emotions. And technology is moving quickly: Engineers are developing robots to automate single tasks, but experts predict that eventually, artificial intelligence could become as common a kitchen tool as a whisk.

How can something made by the steely mechanical hand of a robot be considered artisanal? It further stretches the definition of a word that is already in danger of becoming little more than marketing-speak, for sure. But Zume Pizza co-founder and co-chief executive Julia Collins and others in the field assert that if the base ingredients, processes and technique come from artisanal origins, the food itself can be considered artisanal.

‘‘Food has to be made with love,’’ said Collins. ‘‘That’s why humans make the food, and when I say ‘make the food,’ humans do all of the scratch cooking’’ at Zume. That means making the dough, which is aged for up to 24 hours, and the sauce, which Collins said comes from ‘‘single-source organic dry-farmed tomatoes’’ and is made using executive chef Aaron Butkus’s grandmother’s recipe. Humans also must chop and prep the toppings, which are all locally sourced and use seasonal produce. Robots assemble and cook the pies; at peak capacity, they can make 288 every hour.

Apparently, we don’t want our food to look like it’s made by robots. Zume has taken particular care to ensure that: The machine they are commissioning to press the dough will create three slightly different shapes. Because the tomatoes are hand-crushed, the consistency of the sauce changes, so Marta the robot spreads it differently with every pie — ‘‘perfectly but not too perfectly,’’ said Collins. And the menu is constantly changing.

‘‘If I see too much homogeneity, I know that something is wrong with our creative process,’’ said Collins.

They don’t hide the fact that the pizzas are made by robots, but they don’t promote it on their website, either. Given the company’s location in a community full of programmers and engineers, it’s part of the appeal.

OH! Isn't that lying by omission?

The automation doesn’t stop in the kitchen: The delivery-only pizza joint has special patented food trucks that bake your pizza en route, in an oven that turns on automatically 3½ minutes before the truck delivers it to your house after following an algorithmically optimized route. It eliminates dwell time, which is pizza-biz lingo for ‘‘that horrible time when it’s in a cardboard box in the back of a Camry,’’ said Collins. She foresees a fleet of cook-en-route delivery vehicles serving people across the country, and not just bringing pizza. Zume can have the food at your door minutes after you place the order, by front-loading the truck with the most popular pizzas and circling neighborhoods on busy nights.

And the best part? All driverless.

Pizza isn’t the only food that’s getting a robotic boost. Momentum Machines announced plans to open a robot-operated burger joint in San Francisco, with systems that will allow diners to customize their blend of ground meat. There are robot noodlemakers in Japan and robot cocktailmakers in Italy.

You start to wonder why they need us. 

What good is a minimum wage raise if the job is being done by robots?

Technology yet to come could further blur the artisan-robot divide. There are already robots that can quantify taste. One was created in Thailand in 2014 to combat the adulteration of flavors in Thai food and to set standards for the taste of classic dishes. And an engineering Ph.D student at Berkeley has been exploring the use of virtual reality to teach robots human motions. A human wearing a VR headset could demonstrate culinary tasks, such as knife use or deboning a duck, that the robot could emulate. Eventually, those robots could be able to prepare entire meals in the style of their teachers.

A robot with a knife? I hope there won't be any glitches (always are).

‘‘This is kind of an absurd image, but equip a grandmother with a system that would record every motion that she makes when preparing a dish,’’ said Sarah Smith, research and design manager at the Institute for the Future. ‘‘Then you could basically upload that to a robotic system to reproduce later.’’

So is reading a Globe.


Look who is delivering it:

"Would you let a robot pick out your breakfast cereal?" by Scott Kirsner Globe Correspondent  February 10, 2017

A new idea that would disrupt retail by cutting jobs and costs at the same time: the self-service grocery store.

That's actually a VERY OLD IDEA!

In 2017, a group of entrepreneurs are starting to wonder whether more cost — and more jobs — could be wrung from the grocery business by having robots roam the aisles.

Startups have collectively raised millions of dollars to streamline the process of replenishing your cupboards, and a report last week in the New York Post asserted that e-commerce giant Amazon is also developing a robot-staffed grocery store that could operate with just 10 employees, though the company denied it.

Why is there so much interest all of a sudden in automating the grocery store? “Grocery has been relatively resistant to online shopping,” says John Lert, founder of Alert Innovation. “It has to be local because it’s hard to deliver ice cream or fruit by UPS very easily or inexpensively.” Plus, Lert says profit margins for a typical grocery chain are less than 2 percent — so offering services like online ordering and home delivery eat into that.

All of a sudden? 

Remember Market Basket? How they doing?

But a 2016 Morgan Stanley report says that even though it can be challenging for stores (or startups like Instacart) to deliver groceries profitably, consumers are increasingly willing to place orders online. The report from the investment bank predicted that online orders in the United States would jump from 8 percent in 2015 to 26 percent last year, for fresh groceries (as opposed to packaged goods like cereal).

Total grocery spending in the United States is also massive — $675 billion, according to Morgan Stanley.

The hope is that a store where robots take your digital shopping list and fill up totes would make it cost-effective for stores to deliver to your home, or enable you to pick up your order on the way home from work, without leaving your car. “The retailer can still make money because they’re not having to pay a human being to walk the aisles filling your order,” Lert says.

(Blog editor frowns; the elite $hits are talking like you are not even at the table)

Lert’s Alert Innovation is working on a sort of hybrid supermarket, where customers might choose to have their Frosted Flakes and fish sticks picked from the shelves by bots but select peaches and steaks on their own. “One peach or steak is not the same as another,” he says. “My belief is that most customers would prefer to select their own fresh goods like that, but they can also choose not to.” Lert’s company has about 30 employees, and it raised money last August, though he won’t divulge how much: “Right now, we’re just focused on getting the technology developed,” he says.

For how long?

Takeoff Technologies envisions using already developed technologies to create a compact store, about the size of a gas station convenience shop, that would be able to carry a full line of 50,000 or so grocery items. “We call it automated retailing,” says cofounder José Vicente Aguerreverre, who previously started a chain of grocery stores in Venezuela.

Venezuela is in crisis right now.

Rather than robots, it uses shuttle carts, elevators, and conveyor belts to move merchandise. In addition to cutting down on employees — a company-produced video shows just two working at a Takeoff facility — the smaller store design would radically reduce real estate costs.

“Less staffing means less cost to serve customers,” Aguerreverre says. “Lower cost to serve is lower prices.” The company has raised $10 million from investors.


FP Robotics is the youngest of the startups. Founder Peter Lessels notes that there hasn’t been much innovation in grocery stores “unless you count the flashing LEDs on the coupon dispensers.” His vision is that fully automated supermarkets will be able to “remake retail,” offering both pickup and delivery of items beyond just food, like pens, light bulbs, or printer ink.

“When you know what the future will be in a certain space, and it will get done by others if not by you, how do you not do it?” Lessels says.

One group of engineers in Boston is also thinking about how you might carry those heavy groceries home if you’re out running errands on foot. Piaggio Fast Forward, a division of the Italian maker of scooters and motorcycles, earlier this month unveiled two cargo robots it calls Gita and Kilo. They’re designed to hold packages and tag along after a human.

I'm done tagging along.

“Both robots are about making the human more efficient,” says Sasha Hoffman, chief operating officer of Piaggio Fast Forward. “We want you to walk more, and do more, and have your hands be free.” Piaggio hasn’t yet announced a price or launch date for the robots.

It really is a self-centered pre$$

If all you read was an AmeriKan paper you would think the whole world is Jewish.

A future where robots both put together your grocery order and help carry it home will raise some interesting questions — like, which bot was responsible for pulverizing the Nilla Wafers to powder?

Ha.... ha.... ha.

Piggly Wiggly founder Clarence Saunders, incidentally, knew that we were headed in this direction, but today, more than 600 of Saunders’ Piggly Wiggly markets survive in 17 states, and Piggly Wiggly is owned by a Keene, N.H., company called C&S Wholesale Grocers. While Saunders is long gone, in 2009 C&S was among the first to bet that robots will be essential to the grocery industry. It acquired John Lert’s previous startup, which developed automated systems to work within grocery warehouses. That company, Wilmington-based Symbotic, now employs more than 700 people and is one of the anchors of what you could call the “grocery tech” cluster in Boston....

By replacing warehousemen. No wonder there are no jobs in Hatfield anymore.


You say what happened last night?

"Woman tried to use pizza as ID. Then she slapped the bouncer" by Steve Annear Globe Staff  November 23, 2016

A story about a woman who allegedly tried to use a slice of pizza as a form of identification to get into a nightclub before slapping the bouncer for refusing her entry, has put a popular Amherst establishment in the national spotlight.

Shut her off!

Rasif Rafiq, 29, co-owner of the Monkey Bar, said his phone has been “blowing up” after a police report that appeared in the Daily Hampshire Gazette about the pizza-related kerfuffle was picked up by a website aimed at college students. The report was then shared by the Internet behemoth BuzzFeed this week, adding to the increased interest.

“It’s definitely unexpected. It’s definitely unexpected,” said Rafiq. “It’s funny, and has given us a few laughs, and we hope it has given other people laughs.”

Do I look like I'm laughing?

The full story, according to Rafiq, goes likes this: 

I hate tales of drunken debauchery.

Last Thursday, around midnight, a woman approached a bouncer outside of the Monkey Bar hoping to get inside. The woman — apparently a college student, he said — attempted to hand the bar’s bouncer a slice of Tortellini pizza, which she had purchased from nearby Antonio’s Pizza, as proof of her legal age, when asked for her license.

When the bouncer denied the pizza (although Rafiq said the pizza at Antonio’s is well-liked in Amherst) the woman allegedly began to argue with him. From there, the situation escalated, and ended with the woman slapping the bouncer in the face, he said.

“She said, ‘Just let me in.’ And he said, ‘You’re too intoxicated. I’m sorry,’” said Rafiq, who has owned the nightclub with his brother for two years. “When a girl gets [aggressive] like that, we are sort of at their mercy. All we can do is stand in their way.”

Rafiq said a police officer was nearby, and soon got involved.

According to a police report on the Daily Hampshire Gazette’s website, the woman was issued a trespass notice ordering her to stay away from the club. A friend who tried to intervene was arrested on a charge of disorderly conduct, but the charge was later dismissed in court, the website reported.

Rafiq takes the alleged assault on his employee seriously, but said the bouncer was not seriously hurt. With the story clearly resonating with college-aged patrons, the Monkey Bar tried to make light of the situation on Facebook.

“Despite some popular misconceptions, Monkey Bar does not currently accept Antonio’s pizza as a valid form of ID,” the company wrote on Nov. 18. “Sorry for the inconvenience.”

They also urged people to be nice to their bouncers.

Rafiq said he hopes the incident doesn’t impact the woman’s life too much, because “we have all had nights like this in college.”

That’s sort of the mantra of the Monkey Bar.

“We are all monkeys, and monkeys do wild things sometimes,” said Rafiq. “We give her an ‘A’ for effort, and wish her all the best.”


Also seeDirty Water Dough Co. serving up ‘Peepza’ for Easter weekend

I don't eat the crusts.