I had the pleasure of chatting with angel investor Michael Conniff on his The Accelerator podcast recently! We talk about how to find a great startup to invest in, some of my recent investments, and the robot pizza future.
I’ve provided some links to key parts below. Enjoy!
A robotic arm carefully grips the cup as frothy milk cascades onto smooth espresso. It gently places the cup before you.
Coffee is served.
I’m a little obsessed with coffee. I have five coffee makers at home, each for a different style.
But if the next generation of robotics companies has their way, they might all be replaced by a skillful droid.
Founded in 2015, Cafe X makes full-service robocafes that can be found at San Francisco International Airport and elsewhere. Today, they are only sold to commercial customers, but can the home version be far away?
Cafe X’s intelligent robots can make a drink in as little as 20 seconds. It can even make multiple drinks at once!
Best of all, the price is less than half what Starbucks charges.
CEO Henry Hu was inspired by the robotic arms that build automobiles.
A simpler coffee machine could make drinks, but the robotic arm is much more versatile. It can also serve snacks or even be used in restaurants.
The robot can even cook the pizza, cut it, and put it in a box! But for now, there’s still one employee there to hand the box to the customer.
Hyper Robotics isn’t the first company to attempt robotic pizza. California-based Zume made pizzas autonomously and even baked the pizza en route to you.
But Zume burned cash at a rate of over $10 million a day. Despite a $375 million investment from Softbank in 2018 the company exited the pizza business in early 2020.
The most interesting implications of robotic restaurants may be for the labor force. Over 5 million people work in fast food restaurants in America today.
In a weaker labor market, robotic restaurants could pose a real threat to the livings of working class people. But in today’s world of rock bottom unemployment, the robots may simply be taking a job no one wants.
Many restaurants are cutting hours or reducing service due to a lack of employees. Perhaps if people want to eat pizza but no one wants to make it, robots can help.
Since the pandemic, many former fast food workers have found higher paying jobs at e-commerce fulfillment centers, shipping companies, and the like. For a group of workers that so often struggled, I count this move up the value chain as something to celebrate.
Would you try a robot pizza? And what impact do you think robotics will have on restaurants and the labor market?
On Saturday, I stood in the produce section of a nearby Whole Foods. My eyes were drawn to tiny packages of delicate microgreens. The producer: Aero Farms.
Agriculture faces a difficult environment. Climate change is making weather more extreme and unpredictable. Workers are harder and harder to find. But a new model of farming is emerging, and it looks like nothing else we’ve ever seen.
Aero Farms grows greens in vertical stacks in what was once an abandoned steel mill. The farm is in gritty Newark, NJ, just a few miles from the Whole Foods where I encountered their product. They use 95% less water and 99% less land than a traditional farm. And unlike other farms, they can grow year round.
Technology is also revolutionizing how produce is picked. A company called Root AI makes soft, robotic hands that can pick anything from a hearty cucumber to a fragile strawberry. Alongside the robotic hands is a camera enabled with AI, which can identify the ripe produce and leave the rest to grow.
Seeing it in action feels like seeing the future:
These robots are now being put to use in giant warehouse farms that you could easily mistake for an Amazon Fulfillment Center. These are a project of AppHarvest, which claims they use 90% less water and are 30 times more productive per acre than a traditional farm.
Even if the company’s projections are a bit optimistic, there’s strong evidence from numerous producers that indoor farming uses dramatically less water and space. And with the farm just a few miles from its customers in major cities, transportation costs and emissions are cut to the bone.
Putting robotics and indoor farming together, I think we are headed to a future that produces more output (food) with far fewer inputs (labor, water, land). And unlike human labor, electronics tend to rapidly decrease in price. That will only speed their adoption and lower food prices further.
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