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A $33K robot barista serves 120 cups of coffee an hour (businessinsider.com)
88 points by jelliclesfarm 43 days ago | hide | past | web | favorite | 163 comments

This is literally a $200 coffee vending machine with a $25,000$ arm to move the cup. Except the Wow effect, I don't see the value of this.

This is a Emperor's New Clothes situation. No one dares to say how dumb this is, in fear of passing for a Luddite

A coffee shop is 33% drinks and snacks, 33% theatre and experience and 33% location and/or pleasant lounging space and such.

Maybe at the best end, a barista makes a better cuppa than a good machine but most of the places near where I am now wouldn't pass a blind test Vs the automated coffee machine at my office.

Automated coffee-making exist, and works just fine.

Still, €1 vending machines haven't killed the €3 coffee shops/stands/trucks. Empirically, people want the (subjective) experience, not cheap coffee.

This is a novel, theatrical way of doing the experience.

Besides those relatively banal points... it's kind of cool that they're putting robotic arms into public-facing consumer land. Not sure it leads anywhere, but I'd get a cuppa and watch it work as I sip.


I keep making the point every time it gets raised in a "the robots are coming for our jobs" thread, but we had the technology to vend fast food to people putting coins in slots before we had McDonalds etc, whose laser focus on margins proved the business case for counter staff and killed off most of the Automats. Needless to say, the perception of a pleasant coffee shop offering good service worth paying extra for and superior quality coffee is more intrinsically linked to its staff than the fast food industry.

In terms of theatrics and novelty this super-expensive machine is a massive improvement on the vending machine and can probably justify a $3 coffee instead of a $1 coffee, but it isn't going to kill the traditional coffee shop either, because the novelty is directly proportional to how rare they are....

> McDonalds etc, whose laser focus on margins proved the business case for counter staff and killed off most of the Automats

McDonalds is returning to vending machines - not for the burger manufacturing, but for the order generation and payment:


in selected stores, in addition to the staff, some of whom McDonalds has concluded it makes financial sense to redeploy providing table service. And this despite McDonalds being pretty much the extreme outlier in the food industry for perceptions of its staff being charmless! Your article also points to a poll that suggests the majority of people are substantially less likely to buy from a kiosk-only restaurant, which I'm sure McDonalds has more scientific data on...

Actually, in Japan vending machine coffee is extremely popular, moreso than served coffee.

You can buy all kinds of weird things in vending machines in Japan: hot food, underwear, etc.

I think the robot might improve on the experience by not correcting me when I order a large.

In my experience, most vending machines produce far inferior drinks to most coffee shops. If they could match the quality I would happily get my drinks from them, whether they're in a coffee shop or not.

What's the other 1%?

A good commercial espresso machine of the size and type they're using can cost $15,000 and more, by the way. E.g. https://upscalecoffee.com/products/la-cimbali-s30-perfect-to...

I'm sure it can be done cheaper, but not $200 cheap.

Yeah espresso machines are nuts. How has YC not yet funded a coffee machine startup to "democratize" upscale espresso?

Kickstarter is a graveyard of many overhyped and then under-delivered (or non-delivered) espresso machines.

The problem is that Nespresso already exists, and is good for 95% of the market. The rest of the 5% of espresso aficionados demand tons of features that are not cheap to produce, and the market is inherently not that big. There are machines like https://decentespresso.com/overview (I believe they picked up the IP of an infamously undelivered Kickstarter) and https://www.breville.com/us/en/products/espresso/bes980.html

Yeah, they did pick up the IP of one of the most disastrous kick-starters ever.

It seems plausible, you know, that someone could make a machine like that, but at the end of the day it's all about the espresso head and quality of the build.

By the time they figured it out, I think, they were no better than well-established prosumer models in price and performance.

It wouldn't be "upscale espresso" if the machine didn't cost 10,000$.

If you look into the audiophile community, there are people that have gone crazy spending absurd amounts of money on equipment that's basically a placebo. It fails on blind tests all the time.

I bet it's the same with this coffee.

Do you have any hobbies?

I do, actually.

Luckily, none of them involve spending thousands of dollars on ultra-premium equipment whose advantages are completely imaginary.

I understand how an espresso machine works. If somebody is charging you five figures for one, they're trying to pull a fast one.

I have the impression you have been viewing this from a consumer point of view.

These are not for your kitchen, they are machines for commercial use. Even the fully manual ones easily cost mid-thousands.

I understand how they can cost that much. They're made in small numbers, by some artisans in Italy, presumably with the best of materials and to the highest standard. You can put an arbitrary amount of effort into anything.

The question is, is the end result coming out of that machine measurably better than what comes out of a no-frills machine?

My bet is that it isn't.

But if it can produce it faster, more reliably, in greater volumes, and with industrial grade parts to extend its useful life ...?

It's not just the coffee that's "the end result."

You should start making and selling espresso machines then, since you know more than coffee professionals about them. Same with high-end audio gear.

Do you also go to museums and say "I could have done that" to every painting?

> You should start making and selling espresso machines then, since you know more than coffee professionals about them.

That doesn't really follow. If I think five-figure coffee makers that perform a rather simple mechanical function are overpriced, I should start selling them myself?

> Same with high-end audio gear.

I'm talking about equipment whose qualities cannot be measured nor perceived in a double-blind study. Pure make-belief:

"Audiophile publications frequently describe differences in quality which are not detected by standard audio system measurements and double blind testing, claiming that they perceive differences in audio quality which cannot be measured by current instrumentation,[26] and cannot be detected by listeners if listening conditions are controlled,[27] but without providing an explanation for those claims."


> Do you also go to museums and say "I could have done that" to every painting?

No, I've got better things to do. Having said that, modern art certainly is rife with pretense.

I think you are overlooking one important aspect with espresso machines. You can get much less expensive machine that will create same tasting cup. But only if you do few cups a day not few hundreds. They are expensive because they are heavy duty, they perform and you dont have to clean them as much because they are made with much higher precision and they last longer. This is highly valuable - you dont want you main source of income to die on you in middle of the day.

In the long run price difference is well worth it.

Really? Why are the espresso machines used in coffee shops so expensive then?

If ground-up rhino horn isn't actually a working aphrodisiac, how come these animals are being hunted towards extinction in parts of Asia?

Same answer: People are desperate to be fooled.

You might enjoy this article about "the Keurig model" for hardware startups [1]. I'd be surprised if Blue Bottle isn't tinkering with their own less wasteful version of a Nespresso. They have the perfect branding and reputation already for this kind of thing.

[1] https://medium.com/@BenEinstein/keurig-accidentally-created-...

I think that already exists in the form of Nespresso. I have one in my kitchen and I prefer it to what I get at a coffee place minus the experience.

The lower end of automatic espresso machines is quite affordable. You can buy a new DeLonghi Magnifica ESAM 4200 for under 300€ and with the right settings and good beans that'll make better coffee than you can get at Starbucks.

Better coffee than at Starbucks is extremely low bar. Any espresso machine with good quality beans will do better than starbucks because they use low grade beans (and mostly roasted to death). Unless US starbucks is somehow very differen from the european one.

You don't need to spend thousands of dollars to get a solid espresso machine for your home. I have a $400 Breville machine and it does everything I need. Most people probably wouldn't be able to tell the difference between my results and a coffee shop, except the latte art, mine isn't very good :)

When you start getting into the $1000+ range, it seems like you're mostly paying for the following:

1) more precise temperature control (PID control)

This is becoming less of an issue because the heat exchange systems on consumer devices are becoming a lot better. My machine is ready to go in under a minute, although they recommend you wait about 20 minutes for it to warm up. Some of the higher-end machines with a dual boiler even recommend a 45-minute warm-up time, though.

2) ability to steam milk and pull shots at the same time (double boiler)

This seems to be a big differentiator because then the dual boiler comes into play (dedicated boiler for espresso, dedicated boiler for steam wand). On my device, I simply pull my shot, then steam my milk after. This all happens in under 1.5 minutes. I simply don't need to do them at the same time, but I can understand why you would want this feature in a commercial machine where you need to be moving fast and serving a lot of customers at a business.

3) milk steamer is often quicker on $1000 machines (a few seconds instead of ~15-30 like on mine)

Again, we are talking about maybe 15 seconds of time saving here.

4) water-line hookup so you don't need to refill a water tank

My machine has a water tank, but I only need to refill it every two or three days. I usually have two or three double espressos each day, one or two of those are lattes. So the water hook-up is of no use to me.

5) fancy styling / italian design & looks

I think my machine has decent styling, but it doesn't look nearly as high quality as something like the Rocket machines: https://rocket-espresso.com/.

I researched this heavily before buying, and watched a lot of videos here: https://www.youtube.com/user/SeattleCoffeeGear. I was very close to buying a Rocket machine and it would have set me back well over $1000. Anyway, that youtube channel sometimes does blind taste tests between hundred dollar machines and ones in the thousands of dollars. They often cannot tell the difference.

This is a great one: $300 vs $3000 machine: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zuIOlsdDg_o

Agreed. The duty-cycle rating for the commercial machines is much higher and typically are field serviceable. $15k is still a bit steep in my opinion, based on peeking inside a few of those machines. I'm nosy that way.

Precision. They dont get dirty as often which is a problem. Consistency of pressure and heat that you can make every cup same quality. Longevity - if machine lasts 10 years instead of 3 than its big. You can find cafes with la marzocco machines from like 60s.

In fact, the first machine I looked inside of was from the late 70's. It was certainly built to last. I think the company that made it was out of business which is why we were tinkering with it in the first place.

I have to say I'm surprised at the accuracy at the title. It's indeed a coffee serving robot. It just takes it from the coffee machine and put's it on the counter.

Somehow I imagined the robot going through the classic steps you might see a barista perform: grounding coffee and putting it in the portafilter, tamping, using the steam wand, etc. The things that might make the difference between a handmade coffee and one from a standard coffee machine.

But why go the antropomorphic way of getting a robotized hand to copy the steps the barista makes ?

It usually makes more sense to make a coffee machine that does those steps internally. It's easier in the controlled environment internal to a machine. A espresso coffee vending machine seems to be doing some of them already, like grinding the coffee.

All it's lacking is a cup transport system like a conveyor belt to put the cup in from a cup stockpile and to later serve it. You could even automate recovering the cup, cleaning it and restoking it.

Is there strong customer preference for a robot arm serving the cup rather than a conveyor belt ?

> But why go the anthropomorphic way of getting a robotized hand to copy the steps the barista makes ?

I'd guess for the wow effect. Such a system is much harder to calibrate and maintain than a regular automation line. But a lot sexier also. Maybe the perception and experience of getting the cup from a robotic arm is more appealing to customers than getting it from a conveyor belt?

We went to a bar with an anthropomorphic robot bartender and it was fun to watch, especially since it “bantered” with the customers: it had a few jokes, did a little dance when certain music came on, and so on.

It's only a $25k arm if it doesn't need regular parts replacements, which it probably will.

In my opinion, in order for robots to be mass profitable they either need to be faster, better or run longer. This machine seems to do none of those things. Novelty factor only has value whilst it's novel.

That's a Mitsubishi RV4FR or RV7FR series arm[1]. It's a full on industrial arm, not an in-house solution. Industrial arms are some of the most well engineered devices on the planet; they are expected to last decades of nonstop, maintenance-free operation in factory conditions. They're supposed to go hundreds of thousands of hours without performance problems, while holding .005" precision (for this robot, +/- .0008"). This arm costs as much as a nice car because it has the absolute best components that can be built.

If it's the M class version then it's rated to IP67[2], and it can do all of the above while underwater or in a sandstorm.

[1]: https://us.mitsubishielectric.com/fa/en/products/industrial-...

[2]: http://www.dsmt.com/resources/ip-rating-chart/

RV4FR and RV7FR are IP40 in the manual? That would mean that it's not protected against dust and has zero protection from water.

In a controlled environment this is perfectly fine, where dust and moisture can be controlled - but we're talking about moisture from steam coming off of the coffee, the possibility of coffee spillage on the machine, organic dust from nearby humans, non-clean power supplies and loads which may fall outside of usage rating (i.e. obstacles or heavy loads or continued use close to its maximum).

Honestly I would be surprised if it's still working in a year in these kinds of conditions.

Another issue with smart motors that generally isn't discussed is that they wear out (can only handle lower loads) and lose accuracy. I've used magnetic encoded smart motors for a few projects and after two years you can't rely on them anymore - and this is easy work for the servos (occasional usage).

This seems like a classic case of massive overkill. The cheap solution would be to not have the arm at all, and just put the $200 coffee machine out for customers to operate themselves. It's not hard to put a cup in something and press a button.

120 cups an hour is one every 30 seconds, I'm not sure a barrista could keep that up, if they could actually reach that speed to begin with. I'm not sure what you mean by "run longer", it wouldn't get tired if that's what you mean.

Agreed its probably a novelty though.

Starbucks with a staff of 5-7 during peak mornings have a goal of ~40 second drive through times which they routinely achieve, while handling non-drive through customer load as well.

Also drive through includes multiple drinks and food items as well crammed into that 40 or so seconds.

When timing the serial steps of making a drink, it takes about a minute from start to finish, but their process is to batch and pipeline drinks so that they generally handle 3-5x drinks per batch in a pipeline (repeatable beverage routine), and this is for a lone barista pumping out hot beverages. The other 4-5 people are usually on cashier duty, and drive through duty.

Have you got any links. The research I've done suggests Starbucks are the slowest [1].

I haven't been able to find any figures excluding queuing, but these figures would seem to cast doubt. Unless Dunkin Donuts are doing the same orders in <30s.

I can assure you that a barista in Italy can easily reach that number. And do many other things in between.

(In the Netherlands it's probably three cups an hour, with looking at the ceiling or the floor in between).

Possibly, depends on the drinks.

Espressos? probably. Large lattes? Not so much. Steaming the milk would kill the throughput too much.

I would guess that the Italian would do a much higher proportion of shorter and smaller drinks.

Not too sure about the "large latte", which in Italy might only translate to "cappuccino" (and it's not that large). Anyway, apparently two baristas from Milan have the world record of 623 espresso cups/ hour. :)

I believe a "large latte" is more similar to what in Italy is a "latte macchiato" (though as you say is not very "large"[1]) than to a "cappuccino".

[1] "normal" bars in Italy only have two sizes of cups, one (smaller) for the espresso and one (larger) for the cappuccino (used also for tea, chocolate, ginseng, etc.). Large mug-sized cups normally exists only in homes where traditionally you have a caffelatte with bread or biscuits at breakfast (or sometimes instead of dinner)

>This is literally a $200 coffee vending machine with a $25,000$ arm to move the cup.

Having watched this (https://www.businessinsider.com/robot-barista-reveals-danger...) I tend to agree with you. Coffee making is a business of diminishing returns and quickly rising costs. You can do an acceptable espresso with a $200 espresso machine. However to make an amazing cappuccino/latte you need to go to at least $5000-$6000 price point. Separate boilers, precise pressure monitoring and all that jazz. The reason for that is that steaming milk is not a very easy job for a robot.

I agree with your larger point about diminishing returns but I’d have to disagree with the price point of making an “amazing” espresso or latte. My $800 home espresso setup makes drinks that are at least on-par with the local 3rd wave shops (although my latte art is pretty bland). To me, the reason for those very expensive latte machines at the shops is volume (pulling multiple espresso’s simultaneously) and durability— my gaggia definitely couldn’t handle hundreds of drinks per day.

Do you mind sharing which one you have?

Sure, its the Gaggia Classic. I bought it refurb a few years ago and it's been very solid. I modded the steam wand, which is done a lot and I would recommend if you go this route. Here's a tutorial:


Remember that a proper grinder is at least as important as a decent espresso machine. I've been through a few but have finally found the excellent Rancilio Rocky Doserless, which was also refurbished.

A few other accessories like a bottomless portafilter, a knock box, and a milk pitcher for steaming, some good beans and you're pretty much set.

I think my whole setup was less than $600 and I have never regretted it. It takes some time to dial in your grind but you'll be beating your local barista's shots within a few months (and at a significant discount).

Yeah they could save $25K by just putting down a coffee vending machine. Like at truck stops.

I don't get the "they took our jobs" vibe from this video. Especially considering these things probably come with support contracts (and troubleshooting, maintenance, etc) that cost more than an employee, because it's specialized hardware.

To be fair, it looks like a commercial espresso machine not unlike what Starbucks would use. Those alone are well above $25K.

The 25K is likely just the robot arm itself, and not even the espresso machine, grinder, enclosure, payment system, and bean hopper/dispenser.

Real commercial espresso machines are still a very manual process for many reasons. This is something you’d see in the micro kitchen of an office or an airport lounge, not a Starbucks.

I disagree. Starbucks and similar needs to be automated, at least partially, while maintaining the premium it charges on a per cup basis. That means that it would need to keep the traditional expresso machines and process that people believe they are paying for -- if they just replace those with large blockly traditional coffee machine people will stop going to Starbucks because they are no longer a premium differentiated solution.

You need to keep the premium that Starbucks customers pay for and that is using traditional methods with lots of customization options. Making coffee at Starbucks is sort of a performance, and that is remaining because that is what people are paying for.

You are misunderstanding Starbuck and the premium coffee experience completely.

I think that something like this will succeed at the medium-high end. But "artisan" premium coffee that is hand made at an espresso machine will remain but it will likely get even more expensive.

Remember that we have already automated pretty fully the low end coffee market with Nespresso, Kurig, etc.

I think you are completely wrong, there is a market for this.

all those people who ordered using Starbucks app and walk in hoping to see their cup ready for pickup absolutely don't care about the 'performance' or which machine was used to make it. some people just want their coffee and gtfo of there

Indeed people trust the brand. As long as it keeps tasting the way it does and meets expectations, you could have it coming out of tubes from some automated mini factory in the back and 9 out of 10 wouldn’t care. They just want their drink.

Not to make it equivalent but in Japan and other places people get their coffee from cans. All they want is a little pick me up routine in the morning or whenever.

The majority of your argument seems to be Starbucks provides a sort of performance art, which can't be replaced by machines and, whilst partially true, the general idea of automation is "fire and forget".

I pay €29K (gotta love the exchange rate, right now) for a machine which will replace a worker that I probably pay for year the same service. Sure it's not "artisanal" but, given enough time to tweak the machine's behaviours, it could be.

For the lower-end markets, definitely, it would be a god-send (in the ROI sense); however, I think your arguments of dissuasion that Starbucks would never do this are akin to the arguments of high-end car manufacturers never moving to automation to build vehicles.

Put succinctly: If the end-goal of business is to increase the profit-marigin (which it is), then someone, somewhere will find a way to make that happen and this would be, in general, no exception to that rule. Eventually, they'll hit that sweet spot to make it work; even if it's slightly sub-par from the quality of today's product.

The question is whether or not Starbucks is like a moderately high-end car or a luxury handbag, where the whiff of anything not 100% assembled by hand makes consumers flee.

Starbucks really muddled the waters during their rapid expansion about which customer they‘re targeting, and at some point they will be forced to pick.

Well, I disagree thats its a $200 coffee machine, but theres no way on earth this needs to be an arm emulating a human user on existing machines. Im pretty sure you could buy a "premium" commercial automatic coffee machine for less than the cost of the arm - in fact, thats what the arm appears to be operating!

Looks like I misunderstood GP. He's pointing out that all the arm is doing is moving cup and pressing buttons on automatic coffee machine too. I agree, this isn't anything special, this is just a robotic arm performing simple manoeuvres.

> “Starbucks needs to be automated.”

That’s a pretty bold assertion. It seems to be doing just fine without having been automated.

Starbucks is premium? In London I consider it bog standard.

I think "premium" means in relation to office provided filter coffee/pod coffee, not in relation to cafe coffee

It's been years since I worked somewhere that didn't have bean machines. Figured it was the norm these days.

They started off that way. It was one of the places in America that treated workers nicely and probably one of the first chains to source beans that were fair trade and sustainable.

Then they decided that moving into every big box store and rest stop was important.

I'm hoping the $25k is more than just the arm and is more for the entire retail ready unit as displayed on their website... which is not bad value

Even at 30k for the coffee machines and 25k for the arm plus 5k for the enclose. 60k investment for $300/hr. Like $200 margin running even 12 hours a day. That's over 800k a year in the right location.

Add the cost of coffee, water (usually filtered/depurated), electric power, sugar, washing, ...

... and good luck to find a location that has customers needing 120 coffees/hout for 12 h each day of the year.

Robot arms are surprisingly expensive. This seems like a low-end robot arm.

> Today, an industrial robotic arm can cost anywhere from $25,000 to $400,000. [1]

[1] https://insights.globalspec.com/article/4788/what-is-the-rea...

Low-end arms are ~5k. This is just quite small, a Mitsubishi RV-FR series, payload ~5 kg. 300k+ robots are things like the KUKA KR1000 ("Titan"), which can literally toss around cars. It's got 200x higher payload for <20x the cost; if anything small arms are overpriced (they are- the only current use cases are pharmacies, low-end semiconductors and medicine).

Anyway, Mitsubishi is well respected and this is a very good arm.

[1]: https://us.mitsubishielectric.com/fa/en/products/industrial-...

> $25,000

That's an annual salary of a coffee server

I don’t know how good the vending machine’s coffee is, but there’s a cafex close by and it’s pretty dang good.

In most of those chain coffee shops what you get is a coffee vending machine with a human arm to move the cup.

That’s the goofy part here: that arm is completely unnecessary. You could just have the customers put the cup under the spout themselves.

Yeah, but what about the experience?

You could already have pure vending machines serve what baristas serve you at Starbucks, Costa, whatever, you would get exactly the same product and it's close to what happens in reality. But people want a coffee shop experience, not a vending machine experience so I think moving robots will be a thing (unless people really insist on interacting with humans)

I’m not sure I agree. We went to a lounge with a moving, anthropomorphic robot bartender and had a lot of fun interacting with “him” (and watching other people do the same). However, it was mostly the novelty of the experience; we had a great time but we’re not dying to go back ASAP.

Sometimes, the service is part of the coffeeshop/bar experience, but seeing stuff being done is a fairly minor part of that, at least for me. Instead, it’s a quick chat or a recommendation, neither of which a moving arm really provides. You might be right that the apparent labor, either by a human or moving arm, also masks the (large) margins on a coffee drink. I hadn’t really thought of that as “the experience” (vs comfy chairs, decent music, and a pleasant murmur of other conversations) but you might be onto something there.

However, I think the main reason vending machine coffee isn’t popular is because it’s historically been pretty bad. The newer ones (Nespresso, etc) do make decent coffe, but you can still get some vile sludge at hospitals and rest stops.

I'm not aware of any major chain coffee shop that uses coffee vending machines like that.

Well, they can't make it too obvious, can they. But it is basically it.

Employees do no more than employees at say, McDonald's. In fact probably less. Push a button, right amount of coffee pours into cup. Move cup. Push button, right amount of milk pours into cup. Move cup.

Replacing people by robots will make no difference to the final product.

What we need to wait and see is whether consumers want to be served by a human or whether they don't care. We'll have an answer very soon because for fast food and coffee shops there's just a couple of years before humans become operationally optional.

Personally, in a high end place where staff adds value I will care, but I couldn't care less in a Costa Coffee or McDonald's.

> Employees do no more than employees at say, McDonald's. In fact probably less. Push a button, right amount of coffee pours into cup. Move cup. Push button, right amount of milk pours into cup. Move cup.

I don't know what places you're talking about. Everywhere I've seen they use an espresso machine which isn't a case of 'push a button, right amount of coffee pours into cup', even places like Costa.

I observed in Costa and others...

Even when they use en espresso machine (because perhaps you ordered an espresso), it makes no difference to the final product if that is automated entirely. A standard espresso machine requires a human only because it cannot automatically reload coffee.

The simple fact is that at this point humans are really only there for the 'experience', not to create the final product.

Well I was in a Costa myself earlier this week and I literally watched them use an espresso machine, and it wasn't just pressing a button. I can see that with my own eyes so I don't know what parallel universe you're living in.

(I can see you editing your comment out from underneath me by the way.)

What do your comments add to my actual point? I obvious know that it is not an actual vending machine at the moment... But it is in all but name.

Humans in Costa don't add any value to your cup.

They might make you feel better, though, so we'll see if people are fine with being served by a robot (as I already wrote).

But, please keep focusing on the literal.

When pointing at the Moon...

Your original point was

> In most of those chain coffee shops what you get is a coffee vending machine with a human arm to move the cup.

What I'm adding is that anyone with eyes can go to a chain coffee shop and see that they aren't using a vending machine.

So it's a robot arm that operates a set of automatic espresso machines. Why is the arm even necessary? If you do away with that you just have a coffee vending machine which you can find at every train station since forever.

A vending machine doesn't raise $7MM in funding.

Then they should have gone all-out with a fully animatronic barista. Hipster beard, tattoos and all.

Not for the MVP. Those are clearly post IPO features.

And those are in any case premium extras. Want a regular beard? $25/mo Portland-grade hipster beard? $59/mo.

Does that include the man bun?

I like the way you think! Have you considered being on the board of this startup?

Coffee machines seem to be little different than a Nespresso or Kurig. But these are looked down upon by many -- not me as I drink my Kurig, but many.

You want the premium that a traditional expresso machine brings -- whose products are $3-$5/cup.

This will likely succeed, or a similar product.

I actually used one of these when I visited San Francisco a couple of years back (I think it was at an AMC IMAX?). As everyone has already said, this is a coffee machine with a $25,000 arm that moves the cup. I was super excited when I saw it and my inner kid came and met my inner coffee love. After I paid for the coffee, I was super disappointed that it simply moved the cup and nothing else. I don't know what I was expecting but I sure as hell was extremely disappointed.

Yeah I used it there as well, it's at The Metreon mall. I was also surprised they had to have an employee next to the thing in case it breaks.

So instead of having one person and one coffee machine, we now have one person, one coffee machine and a robot arm.

The future truly is now.

"The ideal flight crew is one pilot and one dog. The pilot is there to feed the dog. The dog is there to bite the pilot if he touches anything."

To add to that, they possibly also upgraded their employee from a Barista ($25k) to a robotics engineer ($100k+)

i agree with the other comments that this "robot" is mostly a gimmick.

but it really pains me to only see headlines like "automation is killing jobs" from the west. meanwhile in japan they have a long tradition of replacing jobs with robots. their society is very happy about it, which lead to massive industries focusing mainly/only on automation.

so my multi-part question is: why is the west scared of automation? does it have to do with a lack of knowledge, or is it because of a different attitude towards jobs than in japan? why does it seem like western societies care more about truck drivers and baristas than providing better jobs?

I've read a number of theories, some better than others:

1. Japan has an ageing population [1] which means a declining working population. That means job losses don't convert into increased unemployment.

2. Some say Japan relatively prefers robots to immigrants [2] due to "traditional xenophobia".

3. Some people think [3,4] it's due to indigenous religions; that the Christian tradition says only God can create life and any human with the hubris to play god will inevitably be punished, possibly at the hands of their own creation; whereas Shinto says there are hidden spirits in things like trees, rocks, rivers, mountains and so on.

4. Or maybe it's just because their media is full of heroic friendly robots and cyborgs.

Of course, the business value of strapping a robot arm to a bean-to-cup coffee vending machine is another matter...

[1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Aging_of_Japan [2] https://foreignpolicy.com/2017/03/01/japan-prefers-robot-bea... [3] https://www.technologyreview.com/s/421187/why-japanese-love-... [4] https://www.wired.com/story/ideas-joi-ito-robot-overlords/

"different attitude towards jobs than in japan" => Yes. In Japan, a company will keep you, even if you don't add much value. You have to have a job. There is a strong relationship between you and your company. You have to dedicate yourself upthere but the company will take care of you.

My explanation is probably not completely accurate (non-native english speaker so it's hard for me to get to the point), but it's important to understand the difference in culture.

at this point in time you need a job to pay rent and buy food (and, if you're american, have a chance at decent health insurance). for coders it's easy to find a job, for people without such "in-demand" skills maybe not so much.

so any retail or food service job replaced by a robot means one fewer job for someone who might need it. in a just world that would be great, the whole point of doing work should be so that we have to do less work, but that's not how society is structured now. an american barista who loses their job to a robot has more or less no safety net at this point. the only benefit in this story is more profit for whoever no longer has to pay a human when they can pay a robot less for the same job

why is the west scared of automation?

I can't speak for "the west", but in the US, very important things are tied to employment like health insurance & retirement benefits and others. So, if a robot takes your job, then you (or even your kids) are on average likely to be one medical emergency away from bankruptcy.

Because truck drivers and baristas have perfectly good reasons to oppose automation in their lines of work. The economic model of the West is vested in self-interest, and this is its natural outcome. If you

  - want to have a job
  - don't want to pay to retrain
  - don't want to become unemployed (and then have to compete for another job)
you will oppose automation. Automation is pushed from the top down - the people at the bottom certainly don't want it without a strong guarantee that they're going to be better off for it, and not in some hand-wavey "social progress" way.

Restaurant chain executives have argued that automation is providing a necessary solution as they struggle to fill positions and convince workers to stay.

It is not a gimmick, from the POV of a business looking to cut labour costs, as alluded to in the article. However, it is disingenuous on their part to suggest that they are forced towards automation due to government policies or worker apathy. The real reasons might be that a robot (arm) is not subject to any employment rights, does not need breaks, goes off sick, refuses to work extra hours, requires various other perks like holidays, paternity/maternity leave, no promotion - unless it is a firmware upgrade etc.

Uber would bite that arm off, if they could remove the 'labour' element tomorrow, as they frequently clash with unions and governments around the world. Nonetheless, they are already moving towards the goal of autonomous vehicles.

I can only speculate, Japan has had a traditional job-for-life ethos, removing any anxiety. It also has a different set of socio-economic issues to deal with. One of them would be an ageing population, low influx of immigrant workers - which might cement the robot culture even more.

Japan's population is crashing, so they need robots to take over jobs where there are no longer people to do those jobs. Because of immigration, the United States' population is rising and the economy is unable to provide sufficient stable well-paying jobs for all those who would like them.

i agree with you that automation is needed more today than in any other point in the history of Japan due to population constraints.

but Japan's automation efforts started half a century ago: https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/0166497294...

From half the world away the Japanese society looks anything but “happy” to me: long working hours for those that do manage to get a stable job, women still seen as housewives first, higher proportion of suicides compared to the rest of the world etc.

Suicide rates in Japan aren't much higher than the United States:


i was referring to their attitude towards automation, not how happy they are in general.

all societies have issues.

Technology amplifies human ability. A washing machine is a robot. A circuit board is a robot. It allows humans to get more done with less. That is awesome. The real problem comes when society is structured to siphon those gains away from the population. This is done through various isms.

> coffee places don't keep a record of every customer's past drink order — but you can do all this with robotics

Does everything have to come with gratuitous surveillance?

Yeah, if you want people to know stuff about you, you need to let them know stuff about you.

Nosey and caring is the same thing when it comes to how much information you need to posess. The difference is how you use it.

Unfortunately I’d have agree with you.

When your a regular at a coffee shop and the Barista knows your name, your dogs name and your regular order, that’s nice.

When the robot does the same thing, it tends to come out creepy and annoying.

The clerk at Starbucks wont profile me for ads on Facebook even if she will learn what I usually order, though.

I just got an idea for a new startup...

I like this... and agree with Pete - there is no need for a human to stand and make a basic product for 10 hours a day when a robot can do it.

BUT.... there will always be a need for quality service and people will pay extra for that.

Robots for the quick, fast food/drink. People for the more relaxed service - which of course will cost more.

> there is no need for a human to stand and make a basic product for 10 hours a day when a robot can do it.

Ultimately there is no need for most of what we work on. Once our basic needs and comfort are covered it's a boundless quest for economical growth and a sense of "fulfilment". Low skilled repetitive jobs are needed if we continue on our current economical path.

A lot of jobs could already be automated, we could probably work half of what we do now and keep 90% of our comfort. The issue isn't technical it's political / societal. People have been talking about automation for 70+ years [0], we're still more or less at the same stage as back then. We replaced factory workers by machines, great, but this didn't deliver them from work, it just made them shift to other low skilled dead end jobs.

Fast food is a good example, they are more and more automated in Europe but in the US it won't happen because many students / people with low education rely on these jobs to survive. Same for walmart, &c ... These jobs aren't a means to an end, they're here to keep low skilled people busy. We sent people to the moon in the 60s, does anyone really believe we can't make a machine that flip patties and make fries (it would be much more efficient and cost a fraction of the employees it would replace) ?

What would be the end goal ? Efficiency for efficiency's sake ? Seems like the most efficient scenario would be to end up in a Matrix kind of world.

Anecdote: I ofter talk to the barista working for my company's internal coffee shop, he said he'd never change job because he likes human contact and relaxed working hours/conditions. Everything doesn't to be about efficiency / automation.

[0] https://fr.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jean_Fourastié

"His technological optimism (Le Grand Espoir du xxe siècle, PUF 1949; Machinism et Bien-Être, Ed Minuit 1951; Les 40000 heures, 1965) led him to announce the 30-hour week and an active life span of about 35 years, and to predict that society would evolve relentlessly towards a tertiary type of civilisation, dominated by services"

> he said he'd never change job because he likes human contact

But do all the people he serves like human contact? In some cases it might be a one-way thing where the server thrives off the human contact, but the customer finds it bothersome. One of the great things about the automation that has come along already, like self-service supermarket checkouts and ticket vending machines, is that people who don’t like interacting with strangers can get the everyday services they need in peace and solitude.

If the end goal of humanity is to be a bunch of loners who only interact with and through machines we're on good tracks. We could also just stay in bed and be fed by tubes, we wouldn't even have to move, 100% efficiency, 0% loss.

A society of pure production/consumption without human contacts, man if that's what we're heading to we're in for a wild ride.

> everyday services they need in peace and solitude.

Move out of the city and you get all the peace and solitude you'll ever need. When you move to a tech hot spot to milk the sweet sweet IT money you kind of sign the social agreement of interacting with other human beings. That's the whole point of societies in the first place; people interacting and exchanging goods and services while living on a shared territory. If human interactions make someone sick to the point of actively avoiding them I think we should stop for a bit and start asking the right questions.

> If the end goal of humanity is to be a bunch of loners who only interact with and through machines we're on good tracks.

Someone who doesn’t like customer service interactions isn’t necessarily a loner with no human contact in his/her life. The person may be a keen member of clubs, meet people through social networks and then transition to IRL meetups, etc. The difference is that there, people bond over a shared interest, they feel something in common. In a customer-service interaction, there is no common bond, just a transaction, and so the interaction is not cherished human contact.

From the shop clerk’s side, it is extremely common to hear complaints about the effort involved in feigning politeness, smiling, etc. Why are you so shocked if some customers feel the same way?

> When you move to a tech hot spot to milk the sweet sweet IT money

Not everyone on HN is employed in tech.

I don't know where you live but I traveled quite a bit and I never had to do more than say "Hi, can I have a coffee, thanks" and hand over the money.

But let's say for the sake of argument that we do replace all these bs jobs. What happens when you go to a bank for a mortgage and the AI doesn't agree with your conditions ? It's the same problem with autonomous cars, it works good when the conditions are absolutely perfect, the second a problem arise it becomes useless. You end up needing redundant people to watch over machines, just like what happens in factories, but these are job for skilled workers. What happens to all the unskilled workers you replaced ? They find other bs jobs.

There are many automated coffee machine in my office, they cost thousand of euros each, every few weeks we have to call the company's technicians to come and fix them because there is always 1 or 2 of them which stop working. What do you think will happen for that $33k robot arm ?

The issue is that these automated drinks generally suck for whatever reason, and the machines break often. And you can’t really customize everything or change things quickly (imagine building a machine with only space for milk and half and half before the soy milk and almond milk craze hit). Oh and could you add a shot of espresso and some whipped cream?

We’ve had coffee machines for decades. A robotic arm to serve them is not useful for us.

A robot arm that is generic is actually quite useful. Because you can build stuff around it that it can use. You want more milk types, you just add more milk nozzles that it can access, and these are just containers or cheep non-moving things.

The generic robot arm is generic but expensive.

I saw this with incredibly expensive robotic arms on a recent cruise. It was actually very very flexible -- all options were external to the arm, and cheap:


It was a very popular bar on the cruise ship in terms of drinks sold -- but it was also in a prime location. The cruise ship properly understood that these "bionic bar" robots were a performance.

That's pretty cool. Apparently the bionic bar costs about 100,000 euros and still requires a human for constant attention. It also appears that they charge 1 euro per cocktail that it makes even when you buy the machine? https://www.makrshakr.com/makr-shakr-3-0/

I like the idea, but that's a lot of up-front expense and still requires humans, electricity, repair, and lacks customizability and speed. If they can bring the cost down it seems like a viable option. Except... how do you not serve people who are already intoxicated? How do you check id (make sure they aren't scanning a friends)? And I guess you aren't building loyalty, which bartenders often do.

I've been to Cafe X multiple times. This makes a GREAT cup of coffee, matcha, or espresso. It's high quality.

This is not just vending machine coffee.

It literally is. They don't make the coffee production equipment, they're off-the-shelf super-automatics. You can see them in the booth.

Except that robot is completely pointless. It's too expensive and provides no real value.

A real barista does not only make a basic product for 10hours.

And if it does there are already machines that can replace him immediately without an overly expensive robot. Heck you can have a fully automatic super espresso machine for a fraction of cost of this "robot".

As others pointed out... it's a robot arm to move the cup from the full-auto espresso machine to the vending window. Completely pointless given there are coffee vending machines that are already much better than those full-auto espresso machines... (of course... it's not completely pointless... some people will prefer to buy the coffee from the robot arm once for the novelty... and coffee vending machines have negative stigma associated with them, even though the best ones are actually really good)

We have Briggo[1] here in Austin. The one I used is in a private large office building, and it's actually really convenient, since I'll generally order by app from the parking lot and be able to pick it up when I walk in. I think the coffee is a lot better than the normal "Coffee from the multigallon thermos in the cafeteria". I've heard that the biggest part of their R&D investment wasn't actually in the arm, but rather in figuring out how to get the machine to do as much of its own maintenance as possible. They could use more investment in their mobile app, which they've redesigned a couple times but which is still horrible.

[1] https://briggo.com/

The underrated aspect of this is on-demand app ordering.

Example - You're walking to work or your next meeting in SF. Cafe X is on the way. Two blocks ahead, you order your drink. As you walk by, you punch in your code and go on with your day.

The interaction is seamless and simple.

Great product!

There was a better article about Cafe X a few weeks ago on the front page where it was acknowledged by the creators that this is performance art and not actually a “$33K robot barista”.

It is a performance, definitely. But that is what the Starbucks coffee experience is. It is a performance. That is why those machines look nice, they make a lot of sounds, and they use a lot of different equipment.

That is their differentiator. There is tons of ways they could have automated that but they haven't because they need that performance, it is partially what you are paying for. If you disagree, you are misunderstanding the reason Starbucks had succeeded.

There’s one outside a movie theater in SF. I use it every time. It’s fun and fast. The coffee tastes good and the UX is easy. The arm is choreographed and does cute dances.

I think we'll be better off as a society if we spend time and resources into automating the jobs that are currently done by humans in dangerous and hazardous situations, rather than automating the job of coffee or pizza making just because "As we see the rising costs of labor, it just makes sense". These jobs employ a large number of unskilled/semi-skilled labor in safe conditions.

"I'll pay twice that if they can also make the arm push a boulder up a hill and have it fall back down again" - VCs probably.

People are calling this dumb, but it's a commercial robotics arm that could potentially go years without maintenance. A quick google search indicates that a barista costs $19,000/year. So it's not hard to imagine a world in which it's profitable.

Also it's cool to look at, so you might get some initial extra revenue in that.

Better link w/video (that BI links to as source) is https://www.cnbc.com/2018/05/08/this-25000-robot-wants-to-pu....

P.S: it’s $25k arm. I don’t know why the cut and paste made it $33k. Can a mod fix it? I think..perhaps it’s my mistake?

These would be good in bars and clubs for serving beer. The long beer queues are the worst.

Full disclosure: I'm a Finn.

Problem with that is all about ordering. Verbally ordering is very efficient and the bartender can track you down if you move or try not to pay, and can remember your face and tab. Not easy or reliable for a robot, and a human will be able to take advantage of it. Humans can also take advantage of automated checkout machines in stores, but the trust isn't there in a bar yet.

There are alternatives like ordering on a tablet, but would get convoluted and awkward fast.

For beer specifically, I don't think a tablet menu is a problem, and you can easily have people swipe their card immediately.

The problem I see with this is more the alcohol related ones like inability to ID or to cut off someone who's had too much.

This just makes me sad. I’ve only been to Italy once and maybe it was the experience as much as anything else, but I swear I’ve never had coffee as good as when I was there. Wandering into a random cafe in the morning with my family, ordering an espresso and a pastry, stupidly ordering a latte that one time for my daughter and getting a glass of milk (oh right, cafe latte)... god if it had been a robot instead of a human being ... well those morning coffees are one of my favorite memories.

> "It's also torture for the customer. Baristas get orders wrong, drink quality is wildly inconsistent, and coffee places don't keep a record of every customer's past drink order — but you can do all this with robotics."

A while back I went to one of those restaurants where you order off a touch screen and then the food gets brought out to you. You barely interact with the server. I hated it.

Maybe I’m a sentimental old fool, but when I’m going out to eat, I do not welcome our new robot overlords. :-(

p.s. And I say all this as someone who’s been called a misanthrope.

This just makes me sad.

> maybe it was the experience as much as anything else, but I swear I’ve never had coffee as good as when I was there

It really is better. Espressi are never sour, while they usually are in Germany. I don't understand it either. Maybe there are some things capitalism can't fix, one of those is culture.

I don’t understand the conundrum, markets give people what they want. You could start a legit Italian coffee business and if not enough people are willing to pay then you’ll go out of business.

At risk of over generalizing, I think some of it is cultural and Americans just don’t care about their coffee like Italians do. So maybe what I’m sad about is that there’s no market here for the coffee experience I enjoyed in Italy.

Those people don't seem to get how the service industry is about receiving a service from people. Getting your coffee serviced by a human is a matter of status, not convenience and efficiency. If you want efficiency you have instant coffee and venting machines.

For at least some part of people going to coffee shops (especially when getting coffee "on the way" somewhere) the "status" they want is "convenient, tasty coffee", which neither instant coffee nor the typical vending machine provide.

Unfortunately they need to improve the product they serve. It’s not very good coffee though it is cheaper (but not faster when busy) than the Starbucks next door to the one I’ve been too. You also have to give the robot your phone number to get the coffee out.

It would be much more impressive if the robot actually served 120 cups of coffee an hour, to paying customers, rather than it's maximum output.

This robot arm is nothing more than a gimmick, it simply moves a cup from under the actual coffee machine to the customer.

I see these multiple DOF arms (5 for this one?) for many of these designs...but I still do not get why none of them use SCARA. Easier to program, more rigid, and much more cost effective. The own downside is that it doesn't look fancy.

"The idea of humans making coffee for 10 hours a day is as crazy in 2018 as a tollbooth collector sitting in a metal box on a freeway," Calacanis told CNBC.


Ah, bless his heart, he's doing people a favor by freeing them from not having a job.

Personally, I wish it wasn’t an arm and it would have been better theatre had it been tentacles. Maybe a gantry design.

Would have been possible to have more options for the coffee with even better theatre.

Cthulhu Coffee.

Everyone here mention failed blind tests between expensive and cheap espresso machines. I suspect something here, but will not jump to conclusions. Are there any sources?

I feel like if this ever gets popular, people will just start ordering outlandishly complicated drinks that the robot can’t handle.

What? Why?

Because a ton of people, myself included, like having people making coffee in coffee shops!

To add - its one of the few places that are for "people" first and foremost without also involving alcohol.

I tried it in San Francisco and it was quite good. Pretty rare to find good espressos there.

When all the jobs are replaced by robots there will be nobody to buy the products.

I want one of these for our office, just because of novelty. :)

It's definitely 100% novelty, because the coffee is made by a completely automated machine (like you might already have in your office) and that robotic arm is just moving the cup of coffee from the coffee machine to a counter.

Surely the headline would be less catchy if it says "trendy coffee shops to replace baristas with vending machines"

>just because of novelty

That went without saying

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