A robotic arm carefully grips the cup as frothy milk cascades onto smooth espresso. It gently places the cup before you.
Coffee is served.
I’m a little obsessed with coffee. I have five coffee makers at home, each for a different style.
But if the next generation of robotics companies has their way, they might all be replaced by a skillful droid.
Founded in 2015, Cafe X makes full-service robocafes that can be found at San Francisco International Airport and elsewhere. Today, they are only sold to commercial customers, but can the home version be far away?
Cafe X’s intelligent robots can make a drink in as little as 20 seconds. It can even make multiple drinks at once!
Best of all, the price is less than half what Starbucks charges.
CEO Henry Hu was inspired by the robotic arms that build automobiles.
A simpler coffee machine could make drinks, but the robotic arm is much more versatile. It can also serve snacks or even be used in restaurants.
The machines cost about $200,000. A quick Indeed search shows most barista positions in the NYC area paying between $13 and $30 per hour.
If the average is even $20 per hour, and a human-staffed store is open perhaps 90 hours a week, it costs $93,600 to staff the store with even one barista for a year.
In an ever tighter labor market, once employers go bot, they may never go back.
Cafe X isn’t the only company bringing Star Wars to Starbucks. In Nashville, Panera Bread is rolling out coffee robots from Miso Robotics.
Unlike Cafe X, Miso’s robot is barely noticeable. It discreetly monitors temperature and time to ensure a perfect brew, but there’s no robotic arm to whisk the drink to you.
The system is designed to assist workers, not replace them.
Miso Robotics also makes Chippy, which fries tortilla chips at Chipotle, and Flippy, which flips burgers for White Castle.
In a white hot labor market, these robots may not cause unemployment. But my concerns about restaurant automation run deeper.
When I go to a cafe, I sometimes chat with the barista and have a little laugh. In a world of sensors and robotic arms, I’ll have no one to talk to.
Those little interactions aren’t the substance of our social life, but they can be enjoyable sprinkles on the top.
Cafe X’s robot amazes me and manages to be cute to boot. But I find a world without anyone to share a brief chuckle with a melancholy one.
Would you try a robocoffee? And what do you think about the future of restaurant automation?
Leave a comment at the bottom and let me know!
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