Robotized bars, drive-thrus, kiosks, cafés with robots making coffee and serving snacks are just a few automation-inspired innovations in the catering industry. Entrepreneurs in the field view the high-tech novelties as a means to eliminate staffing bottlenecks, minimize operating costs, and realize productivity gains. The article investigates how and when intelligent machines bring most benefits in the barista business.
Flooded with crowds of rushing passengers—running late for a flight and waiting to depart or meet a friend—an airport is the ideal location to feel the difference with a robot as a barista. Quick servicing and consistent quality of drinks are the biggest advantages of an automated coffee maker in the environment.
To provide convenience and speed, most robotic solutions targeted at public transportation sites give customers an opportunity to place orders remotely—via an app. To set a robot to brew a fresh java, passengers only need to select a drink from the screen menu on a portable device and customize it to individual preferences. The kind of operation is easy to accomplish from any spot—e.g., while you are still at the arrival gate or at the entrance.
Robotic bars make it possible to address high personnel turnover rates reported as a major problem hampering business development at airport-based joe-brewing spots. Indeed, completing a regular airport shift of making coffees, always afoot and smiling, is exhausting for a server, especially at night. Human baristas struggle to cope with the heavy customer traffic, whereas robots are less sensitive to fatigue and are perfectly capable of working twenty-four hours non-stop.
A Briggo coffee robot at Austin airport (Texas, US) is a nice illustration to how the solution type makes it through high workloads in a busy air station environment. On the outside, the installation is an automated kiosk where machine-to-customer interaction is via a specialized app or an attached control panel. On the inside, the device is a high-tech vending automat exchanging data with a cloud server to deliver a requested drink in accordance with a saved recipe.
The last thing an office employee wants in the beginning of a work day is to arrive late because of a coffee queue. On the other hand, missing a morning mug sounds like a self-care crime or, at least, a come-on-time trick of last resort. A robot serving joes right down in a lobby is an elegant solution, if you are a white collar, and a promising use case, if you want to upgrade coffeehouse business.
A robot makes javas as good as a human barista—except that the machine wears no beard and will not beam at you with a charming smile. Or keep up small talk, which is, frankly speaking, not much of a loss early in the morning when you are too sleepy to pull off a friendly chat with a stranger. A robotic server will deliver a brew silently and, more importantly, swiftly.
Another pro argument is that a coffee from a robot is fairly cheap. However, the small price has zero impact on the quality. In addition to boasting consistent gustatory characteristics, the resulting drink is every bit customized to individual taste, including temperature, strength, etc.
A Cafe X bot mounted at One Bush Plaza, within the San Francisco’s financial hub, is an example of a robot making coffee for office workers.
Large stores are in a way similar to both airports and business centers. Busy shoppers hunting for a discounts or sale, impatient to stand in long coffee lines. The cost issue is also high on the agenda since buying treats, such as a cup of java, leaves you with less money to spend on bigger purchases.
Rozum Robotics, a California-based startup, has delivered the R/Cafe solution to handle busy customer traffic and provide top-quality brews for a fair price. The joe-making bot is built around a collaborative robotic arm of the company’s own design that has been taught to mirror precisely the moves of a pro barista. Partnering with qualified professionals, the company has provided a selection of coffee blends to compose a varied drink menu. Espresso, doppio, americano, latte, cappuccino, and flat white—customers have quite a choice.
In the R/Cafe robot stand, all brewing processes—grinding, managing the espresso machine, adding milk and flavors, frothing—are automated end-to-end. The entire set of equipment is encased in a plexiglass kiosk. A customer just taps a button on a touch screen and watches the machine moving within the casing and manipulating surrounding devices to fulfill the order.
For people who dream about opening an own joe-making shop, the R/Cafe project is a chance to enter the business with a novelty high-tech offering. A robot making javas is sure to cause a wow-effect, fixing you up with a pool of clients to start successfully. According to preliminary calculations, monthly earnings from operating the bot reach 5,000 Euro. The payback period is estimated at 18 months on average.
In addition, employing a smart machine instead of a human to make coffee provides the following benefits:
The question has been in the air a good while since automation fever caught the fancy of business leaders in the food & beverage sector. Japanese engineers have even gone further—from automating separate operations to establishing robo cafes where robotic waiters communicate directly with human customers.
However, the automation boom is simply another whorl in the technology evolution spiral, similar to the industrial revolution of the early nineteenth century. Back then, people also discussed widely and protested against machines introduced into manufacturing processes—because of fear to lose jobs. And just like in those times, the fears are largely groundless.
Robots penetrating into daily activities and traditionally manual occupations are bound to transform the way we live and work, but the change is for the better—to make time for creativity. New types of employment are expected to appear, such as servicing specialists. Within the context of the robotic future, people will rather overlook and manage robotized servers than do the brewing jobs proper. And that’s not losing a job but upgrading to a next level.