The world appears to be operating in high-tech hyper-speed. Every day a new technology is disrupting long-standing paradigms and pushing us further into new frontiers. The emergence of Internet of Things (IoT) has brought good news to millions of people around the world and made many impossibilities possible. Restricted initially to the laboratories or pages of geek magazines, IoT has recently entered our homes, vastly improving many facets of daily existence with smart kitchen appliances, climate control gadgets, household security apps, and more. Now IoT experts are exploring new premises, among them the neighborhood bar. Meet the Robo-barman!
As of July 2017 visitors to a watering hole in a Las Vegas shopping center can order their favorite cocktail from Tipsy, who they say serves an outstanding Bloody Mary. Tipsy is a Robo-barman, and he’s not the only one. Monsieur and Tended Bar are two additional brands of Robo-bartenders that can multitask and serve customers much more quickly than a human could. As a customer, all you have to do is select your drink (or cocktail) from a digital menu and within a few minutes it will be poured and served to you by the efficient robot, no questions asked. For customers, Robo-bartenders offer a cool futuristic experience, for bar owners, they offer an opportunity to cut expenses and improve the bottom line, but what about human bartenders? Should they be looking for a new line of work?
So far, the league of Robo-bartenders is small, but it could be the future. Tipsy appears to have developed quite a fan following in Vegas. Most likely the appeal is the Star Wars like experience of being served your favorite drink by a sleek robot. Nevertheless, it is still a machine, and human interaction is an essential part of the bar experience. How many have poured their hearts out to their favorite bartender, enjoyed his/her nonjudgmental yet blunt advice, or simply felt comforted by the notion that there is someone behind the bar who will let them indulge in self-pity for the night but make sure they don’t cross the red line? Well, Tipsy is not going to be so good with that aspect of the job, he isn’t programmed to do the empathy thing.
Robo-bartenders work great in busy environments, where there are large crowds anxious to be served quickly and fairly, uninterested in long conversations or a tattooed shoulder to cry on. Airports, hotels, sports arenas, cruise ships and shopping malls that are crowded and noisy are the perfect environment for them. They’re also great as part of a human- based team, they can certainly lighten the burden during peak hours. However, they probably will never fully replace the human bartender. As Michael Dyer, a former computer science professor at UCLA, points out, bartenders have multiple and complex tasks and robots can only perform some of them as well as humans. So choosing whether or not to automate a bar is ultimately a question of balancing costs and benefits. For those of us who still don’t have a robotic bar-tender, here is a cool Bloody Mary recipe you can easily make on your own: