For many people, getting older means the bar experience becomes less enjoyable, usually because loud music becomes more detestable, or their bodies can’t take the boozy lifestyle anymore. I don’t like going out as much as I used to, but for me, it’s because waiting for a drink in some places becomes entirely unbearable. I feel bad for the three bartenders trying to serve 75 people at once, and so I’m very much behind bars and night spots inserting a couple of robot bartenders in the corner of the room. Luckily, there are more than one to choose from. The guy you see up there? That’s Carl.
Carl was developed by mechatronics engineer Ben Schaefer, who built the ‘bot from parts of disused industrial robots from the German firm KUKA. At the Robots Bar and Lounge in Ilmenau, Germany, Carl works alongside a human colleague, assisting in measuring out shots and adding them to mixers. A sensor-covered belt helps him to stay upright, and also alerts anyone should he fall or get stuck. And if you want a little conversation, Carl is programmed with some light social skills. Don’t complain to him about your wife or husband though, or he’ll just water your drinks down.
But if you want to talk a genial robot bartender that is more than ready to serve you, look no further than James, the Joint Action in Multimodal Embodied Systems, an EU-sponsored project from Professor Jan de Ruiter of the Psycholinguistics Research Group at Germany’s Bielefeld University, with partners in Crete’s Foundation for Research and Technology-Hellas, Munich’s Fortiss and the University of Edinburgh. A lot of minds went into James, with a goal of finding out how robots could transition into the bartending field in a way that bar patrons would be ready for.
With one arm and a tablet for a head, James has been programmed to understand body language, and to read it in situations where people are waiting for drinks. The research team recorded hours of people ordering drinks in bars in Germany and Scotland. When asked, most volunteers said that they offer signs like waving to the bartender or holding cash out when they wanted a drink, but the footage showed only about 1 in 25 customers actually did anything to get a bartender’s attention. Most of them just stood there and tried to get eye contact.
So, James is supposed to be able to tell if someone wants a drink based on things like which way the customer is turned and where his or her attention is focused. Also, they’ve programmed him not to offend patrons by asking them for drinks when they don’t want any, or by ignoring people who are thirsty. He’s also got a little more than Carl going on as far as social interaction is concerned, and he can hold a short conversation. Here’s a video of the James demo in action last year:
But say you don’t even want to leave your home to get a couple cold ones in you, and you don’t mind getting an extra iPhone or shelling out $2,400 – $2,700? Then you want donate to the Brewbot Kickstarter campaign, which will get you one of their exclusive brewing machines that does almost all of the work for you, via an iOS app. You get the goods, and it knows when and how much of what goes into where and why. It makes over five gallons of sweet beer nectar at a time. It sounds like a bargain even if they asked for my soul. Check out their promo video below.
All of these drunkmaker doohickeys are vast improvements on previous bar-bots we’ve seen in the past. I don’t want them to take over or anything, as there’s no one quite like a great mixologist, but it’s probably important that we make sure they aren’t built to run off of alcohol. Or bending things.