Drinks

Say Hello to Robin, SF's Newest Robot Barista

And it makes a surprisingly good latte
Cafe X Robot Coffee Shop in San Francisco
Photo: Cafe X

Meet San Francisco's newest robot barista, Robin. Sitting in a booth outside an office building in the Financial District, it's the third barista launched by robotic coffee bar Cafe X. Robin's two predecessors—Gordon, located in the Metreon shopping mall, and Francisco, on Market Street—have already garnered positive reviews for their espresso-based beverages. Their newest sibling, however, is the first of Cafe X's second-generation baristas.

During my visit, I watched it rotating and and pulling the nitro cold brew tap with its white, six-axis mechanical arm. Cafe X's engineering team constructed Robin out of parts of an industrial-grade espresso maker and added a robot arm that reportedly costs $25,000 alone. What differs about this second-generation design, however, is the sleek, futuristic-looking kiosk it comes in—a collaboration between Cafe X and design studio Ammunition (whose other recognizable projects include Beats by Dre and Square's payment register).

 

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In less than a minute, my latte was ready. I picked Ritual Coffee's Sweet Tooth espresso, though I also had the option of Intelligentsia or Equator Coffee's single-origin beans. Robin proceeded to "wave" at me after serving me my drink, which, as it turned out, was surprisingly delicious. Bravo, Robin.

But not all the credit should go to Robin. Cafe X's community manager, Sam Blum, says that each roaster teaches Cafe X's robotic staff how to create drinks exactly as they'd be ordered and customized in real life. As a result, Robin can produce up to three coffee drinks in just 40 seconds. 

Company founder Henry Hu emphasizes, however, that Café X isn't trying to take over human baristas. "What we're demonstrating here is you can utilize automation to complete these very repetitive tasks, like shuffling cups and pushing buttons on machines," he says. "The technology exists so we can employ people to do the 'human things,' like educating people about specialty coffee or doing customer service." Instead of baristas, Cafe X has product specialists to answer further questions about coffee at each branch.

This surely won't be the last Cafe X booth you'll see. With $5 million in seed funding from venture capitalists and investors, including the likes of Peter Thiel himself, Hu surely won't have any trouble planting more robotic coffee bars in the future.

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