Not surprisingly, the biggest challenge was building a hygienic machine. "All of the parts come in contact with the elements," Torghele said. "We had to find technical solutions to guarantee" that the food would be safe.
The patented solutions include a dough mixer that prevents accumulation of material in its drum and in adjoining metering chambers. "He thought of everything," Rammers said. "If the machine doesn't sell a pizza for 24 hours, the timer tells it to mix the dough, and then the machine throws it away in a trash bin."
Like most current day vending machines, the Let's Pizza is Internet-enabled. Using a microcontroller and a multitude of specialized software algorithms, it can read information from its 40 onboard sensors and communicate with the outside world. "When it's almost empty, the machine sends a signal to your phone or your laptop that it needs to be refilled," Rammers said. Each machine holds enough ingredients for about 200 pizzas.
The machine has been available in Europe since 2009. A1 Concepts will set up its first US Let's Pizza in Atlanta in late August. The company is working on a plan for machines to be assembled by an American partner.
Competing machines have used microwaves to heat up frozen pizzas, but Rammers said he wouldn't be surprised if the Let's Pizza's success spawns imitators. "Other people are sure to try to build one after they see this. But right now, this is the only one of its kind."
Funny how history repeats itself. Back around the mid '80's, I purchased stock in a company called "American Pizza", ticker symbol was APIZ. They were going to have a pizza vending machine next to every Coke and Pepsi machine in the country. I eventually wrote off that $500 when they went bust.
I obviously thought it was a great idea, but it didn't fly. I hope the new company makes it, because I love pizza. Anything to make easier access to one of my favorite foods is a good thing!
Even though I'm not sure you'd ever convince me to buy pizza from a vending machine, no matter how fresh, this is very cool. I imagine it will sell like hot cakes in dorm rooms and on street locations near downtown bars for a late night snack. Reminds me of a machine I wrote about a few years ago called Moobella that did something similar for ice cream. I'm interested to hear what our readers have to say.
I'm with you, Beth - while I am very impressed with the concept and design, I think the marketing challenge for them would be expectation and reaching their niche audience. If I am going to buy pizza (a treat that I only do occasionally) the last place I would purchase it would be a vending machine. But I agree, for college kids and for folks who want a quick late night snack, it does sound perfect.
It would be intersting to know how where they are in Europe and how well they've done since 2009.
I agree that dorms are a good place for this. And, agreed, that these wouldn't do well in neighbourhoods in NY and San Francisco like Little Italy and North Beach. But, it's a good idea for a cheap, quick, freshly made late night snack on the way home from work.
I'd love to see how tamper proof it is. Since the Tylenol scandal in the 80's, everything has to be tamper-proof in the US.
Tony Soprano would definitely not approve and this is definitely not an option for city scapes like NYC where pizza places (and good pizza places at that) exist on nearly every corner. Interesting, though, from mechanical technology standpoint. There's a lot at play here, from the infrared oven to the machine that flattens the dough and applies the sauce (that reminded me of 3D printing technology) to a whole array of sensors.
I also remember from the Moobella piece, that there is a big maintenance aspect to these machines. Human hands may not be used to make the food or touch the ingredients, but someone has to clean these things and keep them disinfected. That's a challenge in itself.
Tamper-proof is a great point; imagine all those hungry people smelling pizza all the time. Whatever the state-of-the-art is for security in standalone food vending machines, this machine probably needs even tighter controls.
Great slideshow! It would be great if the vending machine had some kind of window so that you could watch the pizza being made. Besides the curiosity factor (I can imagine crowds of people gathering around to watch), it would help customers to understand that this isn't just a frozen pizza being heated up in a microwave. And, who knows, maybe watching the machine will even inspire future engineers.
That being said, as a native Chicagoan, I have to point out that this will never compete with deep-dish pizza.
I agree this is interesting from a mechanical POV, Beth. But I don't believe anyone can prepare a decent pizza in three minutes. Pizza needs a decent oven and a decent amount of time for baking. The pizza at the end of the slide show does not look so wonderful. Somethings can't be quick -- or we would still be consuming Fizzies and using straws that flavor milk to chocolate or strawberry.