Something's definitely been cooking in the R&D department at Pizza Hut this year. In a market showing trends to polarization—the rise of the high-end, handmade, hipster-friendly, small batch, sourdough, pizza-craft on one hand, and the quick, easy, cheap, delivered-to-your-door stuff still going strong on the other—the middle of the road pizza chain has been struggling with a lack of relevance in recent years. Moderately priced, average pizza (to be kind?) and '80s salad bars are clearly doing it for nobody in the 2010's. And by the looks of things, they know it.
Earlier this year, we reported on the Hut's first foray into interactive ordering technology with the release of their concept touchscreen table top for (playing at) designing your own pizza (with some games and phone interconnectivity thrown in for good measure). Last month, the chain announced a total revamp, launching both an attempt at a bold and contemporary new menu—whipping out on-trend big guns like Sriracha sauce, Buffalo drizzle, "Skinny Slice" and more premium toppings, all under a pretty nauseating (and fairly offensive to Italians) campaign "The Flavor of Now" (I'm not linking to that shit)—and a big identity update; the company's fourth refresh in 15 years.
As if Sriracha, touchscreen tables and insulting geriatric Italian's (ok here's the video) wasn't enough innovation for one year, Pizza Hut have released a new concept that claims to be "the future of dining"...
Collaborating with Swedish eye tracking and 'gaze interaction' tech firm Tobii, Pizza Hut have been experimenting with a technology that could make their customers' sentience all but redundant—a tablet equipped with camera and eye-tracking software automating ordering by scanning restaurant goers eye movements across a range of ingredients, deducing their inner-most deep-pan desires in under 2.5 seconds by tracking (erm) where their eyes linger most.
Now, this ingenious innovation is, of course, only a concept. Although the company's marketing department is quick to suggest this marvel could be rolled out to their restaurants in the near future, I'm sure we can all agree that this is unlikely to ever graduate beyond a marketing gimmick to become the ordering method du jour across the chain or indeed, hopefully, anywhere.
Whilst I'm all for exploring the interaction applications of new technologies, this particular corporate crack-pottery conjures up all manner of dystopian images. Comments on the video are already pointing to the Orwellian implications such a device could have—speculation over who exactly Pizza Hut might sell your eyeballs ingredients preference are as yet unconfirmed. Perhaps more worrying in the short term, I would argue this obnoxious 'innovation' is symptomatic of the food industry's (in some cases, perhaps, unconscious) attempts to disconnect the brain (in it's actual critical and cognitive thinking capacity that is) from the taste buds and body—here just taken to an absurd extreme. By distracted us with 'magic...but without the weirdness' (*facepalm*) and outsourcing our decision making to technologically-equipped, pseudo-scientific waiting staff (who knows what implications such tech will have on those poor guys), such giant corporations (alas, the company that owns Pizza Hut, Yum! Brands, also owns KFC and Taco Bell) can hope to continue to get away with serving food of questionable quality and suspect ethical standards.
Ethics aside, you have to wonder how much Pizza Hut actually respects the intellect of their audience—though the acting of the wide-eyed customers in the video (utterly dumb-founded to the point of muteness by the prospect of engaging their brain enough for ordering) gives us something of a hint. Fortunately, we have The Onion to call out such bullshit—breaking the news with 'interviews' of the public that cut straight through this crap.