Tag Archives: Future

Coffeebots and the Search for the Perfect Cup

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 pandemic hit Cafe X hard, but it’s back in service in SFO, Dubai and elsewhere.

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!

More on tech:

Robot Pizzas and the Future of Fast Food

What if Everyone on Earth Had Super Fast Internet for $1?

Robot Hands, Vertical Farms, and the Future of Food

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What I Learned From an Investor Who Turned $100,000 into $100,000,000

Above: Angel investor Jason Calacanis

The angel investor Jason Calacanis got in on the ground floor of Uber, Thumbtack, and other highly successful software companies, multiplying his $100,000 investment into $100,000,000 in just 6 years. With results like that, you know I had to read his book!

The idea of helping, even in a very small way, to build the future appeals to me a great deal. And if my investment multiplied many times over, well, I wouldn’t mind! 🙂 In this superb and brief book, Calacanis lays out a detailed game plan on how to achieve results like his.

He suggests beginning with syndicate deals, in which an angel investor invests alongside more experienced angels. You can begin with as little as $1,000 per investment, and such syndicates can be found at AngelList, SeedVest, and elsewhere. In fact, the author has his own syndicate, here. Unlike most investment managers, the syndicate lead only gets paid if he scores for you. There is no management fee at all, but the lead does keep 20% of any profits for his/her trouble.

You can build your skills, experience and connections in those syndicate deals, and then move on to deals on your own. Calacanis explains that you have to evaluate the founder himself/herself more than the product. It’s the person behind the company that will make or break it. Products can change a lot more easily than people can. What are is the founder’s chances of suceeding in this business, and in life?

I was struck by how similar the approach to finding investments is to podcasting, journalism, or for that matter, blogging. Calacanis advises asking short questions and writing down the founder’s answers at length. Then, you write deal memos when you invest, to lay out the thinking behind the investment. These could help remind you of your reasoning if times get tough for the company, and also guide future investments.

There’s a ton of actionable details in this book, and I won’t get into all of them here. But if you’re even remotely considering investing in early stage companies, I strongly suggest giving this entertaining and highly readable book a look!

I Just Went to a Meeting With Two Experts on Gene Editing. Here’s What I Learned

Photo: Shengfang Jin, PhD, Vice President and Head of Discovery Biology, Editas Medicine

This morning, I attended an online presentation by two experts on gene editing and CRISPR. Shengfang Jin, VP of Editas Medicine, and Andrew Lin, who heads the Rare Disease Center at WuXi AppTec, presented a lot of great info, but what stuck out to me most was the trial Editas is doing to cure a rare eye disorder.

Leber congenital amaurosis type 10 generally causes people to be born blind or lose their sight by age 10. I can only imagine how difficult it must be. A new therapy from Editas targets this disease with a one-and-done treatment. This therapy is the first use of CRISPR in a human being, as opposed to a cell culture, and is currently in Phase 1/2 clinical trials.

Listening to Dr. Jin speak, I was put in mind of this passage from the Bible:

“the blind can see, the lame can walk, those who suffer from dreaded skin diseases are made clean, the deaf hear, the dead are brought back to life, and the Good News is preached to the poor. “

Matthew 11:5

I increasingly suspect we are at the dawn of a golden age in medicine. The rapid pace of COVID vaccine development or this first in vivo use of CRISPR may be the first signs of things to come.

P.S. The presentation should be up on the website of Genetic Engineering & Biotechnology News here soon.