Remember R2D2 buzzing around in Return Of The Jedi with a tray of alien happy hour specials for the party crowd on Jabba the Hutt’s skiff? This scene of science-fiction droids serving cocktails is quickly becoming reality.
The first wave of robotic bartenders is here. Having surpassed the start-up challenges of investment capital and development, these booze-friendly machines are ready to meet you. Just don’t expect the charm of the folks behind the stick at Cheers, or the dance routines on the bar at Coyote Ugly.
The biggest and most startling robotic displays are found on the Royal Caribbean cruise ship Quantum of the Seas. It’s called the Bionic Bar; a balletic array of powerful metal robot arms. Named B1-0 and N1-C, the two units composed of pistons and cyborg hands swing the full length of a huge bar, dipping between each other to retrieve ingredients and grip glasses. They can pump out 1,000 orders a day at two drinks a minute. How’s that for efficiency?
B1-0 and N1-C shake, stir, muddle, and strain 30 spirits with 21 mixers while mimicking the movements of a dancer from The American Ballet Theater. The bionic arms are impressive, but bizarre and mildly threatening. It’s probably why you have the option of having a human waiter actually serve you.
On the other side of the design spectrum is Monsieur. For commercial use, it resembles a photo booth with neon lighting; for the home, it’s a shiny box with a drink dispenser. It’s not as visually bold as B1-0 and N1-C, but it also doesn’t look like it could reach over and crush you. As the posh name implies, Monsieur is ready to serve. Just place your order via a Smartphone app and the gears get spinning with refreshments.
Monsieur prepares 25 different kinds of drinks customized to your personal specs. The machines have been on the retail market since Spring 2014. Currently, the first batch of units is sold out; the price tag is $3,999.00 The units are also available to rent for commercial use at $299 per month after a $1,000 installation fee.
Another Kickstarter-born robot hitting the production fast track is Somabar (SomabarKickstarter.com), a sleek white and wood-paneled rectangular household appliance that uses airtight canisters of your favorite six liquors or mixers. It also follows the Monsieur mold and takes your order through an app.
Somabar has great personal hygiene; it rinses itself with water after every individual drink to cleanse any unwanted flavor-mingling. If Somabar is what you want to take your home entertaining into the digital age, you’ll be able to purchase one in Summer 2015 for $699, or you can get in early on a pre-order through the Kickstarter campaign for $399.
So what are the benefits to robot bartenders? Well, they won’t steal from the bar or pour unbalanced drinks. But there are draw backs too. These bartender-bots will never give you a drop of the human connection that most people seek when they go out to a bar in the first place.
Likewise, cocktail making can be an art in the right hands; robots are cool, but they aren’t artists. Plus, the hospitality and service industries are major muscles of the economy; it’s no fun to consider the numbers of human jobs that the commercial versions of these cyber-tenders will potentially replace.
Robots might work better at massive festivals where hundreds of dehydrated people all want to be served at the same “right now” moment. Still, the jobs at your local tavern and the live venues in town should remain safe. Then your only concern is that the human bartenders aren’t in surly moods.
Innovation is the wild wind of the human world, hurtling us into the future blindingly fast. Are we ready for R2D2 as bartender? Perhaps for sheer novelty. Whether the changing winds speed us to prosperity or send hurricanes down to rip the roofs off our homes will be the result of how we use new technology. Hopefully we’ll enjoy it. Responsibly.