When asked to explain what his company does, Rishi Israni phrases Zimplistic's achievement in terms of millennia.
"Do you know, for the first time ever, we've solved a thousand-year-old problem of making flatbread?"
Flatbread, Rishi explains, is eaten by over 2 billion people per day. And until the Rotimatic, the brainchild of Zimplistic, came along, all flatbreads were made by hand. This wasn't because of a lack of trying—people have been trying to mechanize the creation of flatbread as long as factory bakeries have been around.
It took 10 years for the Zimplistic team to create the Rotimatic, a robot that turns flour and water into flatbread within 90 seconds.
Looking back, Rishi speculates that the hardest things for robots to achieve are the things that are the easiest for humans.
"Anything that human beings do without any thought is seemingly extremely difficult for computers," he says. "Similarly, when you make bread you sort of automatically know when the dough is right, based on the steps. To automate this in a computer or a robotic machine is actually very, very hard."
Part of good bread-making technique, after all, has to do with the subtlety of the hands and the fact that fingers can tell when dough is correctly kneaded, when the ratio of flour and water is correct, and other precisely calibrated but intuitive parts of the process. And to recreate that, the Rotimatic needs a total of 10 motors and 15 sensors. Rishi stresses the difference between image recognition and what these sensors accomplish.
"So sensors are sensing the hardness of the dough as it is developing. Different types of flour and water mixtures and from there, it needs to go into a coherent consistent dough ball," he explains.
Added to the Rotimatic's sensors and motors is artificial intelligence, predicting knead time and dough consistency. However, the Rotimatic pre-dates the IoT era. The company has been around for 10 years, since Rishi’s wife, Pranoti Nagarkar Israni, started working on the first Rotimatic prototype.
"After we got married, at one of the dinner conversations, it started as a joke to build a machine like this. This sparked an idea in her and being an engineer and builder, she wanted to build a prototype . The rest, as they say is history."
The market desire for the Rotimatic was clear from the beginning; within five days, Zimplistic received 5 million dollars’ worth of pre-orders on Kickstarter. The first video on Zimplistic went viral, garnering 5 million views within a month. Now that they've been on the market for 18 months and more than 27 million rotis have been made on the kitchen bot. Rotimatic is available in 19 markets and will launch in India in 2019. The statistics speak for themselves: people are using their Rotimatics "all the time every day. “We can confidently say it because of the data we have, says Rishi.”
This popularity is soothing to the Isranis, who can look back on the 10 years of labor it took to create the Rotimatic with satisfaction. But even now, with 14,000-plus strong "Rotimatic Community" Facebook group, Rishi recalls the challenges. "There were many, many walls we hit. I think there were moments where we would feel, ‘Oh my god, what have we taken on?’ I think here a lot of credit goes to Pranoti. She has—she's always had this very strong faith, that no matter whatever turns or meanderings we have to do we would always end up right."
Looking forward, he anticipates broadening the horizons of Zimplistic along the same lines as the Rotimatic: making fresh, healthy food more available. He thinks that connected kitchens will pave the way for enhanced health and longevity.
"Both of us have made it our mission to look at the kitchen and reinvent it. Take the kitchen towards a more autonomous part of your house rather than the manual part that it is today. That's our hope and we hope we continue to do more robotic kitchen devices."
And it’s the hope of Rishi that the effects of connected and robotic kitchens will ripple out—that worldwide food waste will slow, that the 10-15% of developed nations’ GDP currently going to lifestyle diseases will decrease, and that that saved money can further help enhance global healthiness.
"We think you have to supplement, or to a certain extent, make human beings optional in the kitchen," says Israni. "I think that is going to solve some of the biggest problems in health."