A Night With The World's Greatest Robot Bartenders

With robots and alcohol together, what could possibly go wrong?

Revelers sipped into the future last weekend at BarBot 2013.75. The event, part of Bay Area Science Week, gathered the greatest in cocktail robotics in a basement event space in downtown San Francisco. This recent exhibition spread over two nights to accommodate the crowds. Organizers also recently decided to hold it twice a year, instead of just once; it seems everyone wants a mechanical bartender these days.

The robot bartenders generally fell into two groups: machines that made many drinks with clever mechanisms and algorithms, and machines that made a single drink in the most elaborate way possible. Check out our favorite examples of both ahead.

Click on the thumbnails below to enter the gallery.

Mad Roboticist

Outta Time was a many-drink-maker, with its robotic arm that gathered ingredients from eight tanks that lit up like a disco as each poured. Drinkers selected specific drinks by flipping switches on a controller corresponding to different recipes.Camper English

Ready, Aim

The Santa BarBot from Spirited Robotics also offered nightclub lighting beneath each of its bottles, but instead of bringing the cup to the bottle, it sucked up liquids from the bottles and squirted them at a central cup. One wondered at which point of the night someone would let it squirt directly into their mouth instead.Camper English

Lots o' Labware

Drink Making Unit 2.1, from Evil Mad Scientist Laboratories, allowed partiers to create a cocktail of their choosing by selecting different quantities of mixers from a controller. The machine held the mixers in Erlenmeyer flasks, then pumped them into graduated cylinders that tipped over when full.Camper English

A Vintage Look

The Dr. Hadacoff's Elixirator offered fewer drink options wrapped up in a fancier package. Both the Elixirator and its human companions were decorated in fine steampunk attire. (The website says, "The various items on the sides serve no purpose except to give the illusion of advanced technology.") The machine poured any of ten shots or cocktails selected by repeatedly pressing a button on the front.Camper English

Pumped

Brandy's Bar, by Team KISS, was also a bartender in disguise… as a microwave oven. The control panel offered cocktails like the Romulan Ale and Slave Girl, which the robot pumped from a cooler into a glass with a mechanism that "works like the fuel injection system in your car."Camper English

Well Labeled

Less subtle was Bartendro 15, a Kickstarter-funded robot bartender created by Party Robotics. Bartendro 15 takes up to 15 bottles of booze or mixers and then populates a drink menu on a browser, based on the ingredients it has. When it runs out of an ingredient, it deletes those drinks as menu options.Camper English

Imposing

The Thin Bot 1.5, by the Drinks Advanced Research Projects Agency, came in an R2D2-esque tower shape and made about 15 drinks, offered custom-made drinks, and could choose a drink at random, if asked.Camper English

Impartial Judge

Speaking of random, the 500SW (short for "It's 5:00 somewhere") required people to dance for their drink and let the computer decide what they'd get. The robot blasted party music and attendees had to freestyle dance on a floor pad. According to a secret algorithm, the machine judged the quality of one's moves on a scale from "Terrible" to "Awesome" and poured a drink to match. Terrible dancers got the simplest combination of vodka and orange juice. Yours truly ranked "Violent" and received a White Russian, probably designed to coat and soothe anger issues.Camper English

Those Eyes

Among the single-cocktail robots, I saw the simplest of the night, a wooden box that made only Irish Coffees, complete with whipped cream on top. The name of the bot was originally "Irish Coffee & An Insult," but according to its creator, the insult part of the machine crashed the previous evening. On the next table over were two single-drink machines, the Manhattan Project and the Mai Tai Bot. The Mai Tai Bot, designed to look like a tiki totem, has a rotating dial on the front that hits switches to pour ingredients, shake the cocktail and pour the finished drink through a cooling tube into the glass beneath the totem's tongue. The Manhattan Project at work: And the Mai Tai Bot:Camper English

The Cat's Meow

A final BarBot with a simple drink was actually one of the cleverest of the night, based on the Schrödinger's cat thought experiment, in which we don't know whether a cat is alive or dead inside a box until we observe it. In the Schrödinger's Martini, the box held a uranium-containing cocktail glass filled with cold gin. The glass sat on top of a Geiger counter and a few seconds after the box closes, either more gin or more vermouth goes into the drink, depending on whether the counter measured an even or odd number of clicks. As drinkers couldn't know which liquid went into the glass, the martini was simultaneously wet and dry until the first sip. It was probably easier to understand closer to the first drink of the night.Camper English