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In the future, we’ll take self-driving cars to cookouts, raise a glass to the robots fighting wars abroad (or, okay, to their remote human operators), and drink cocktails made by robots.
Wait, what? Robot bartenders! They’re everywhere! Here, I’ve assembled 11 of the most intriguing autonomous machines involved in serving alcohol. Some are test models, others are hobbyist creations, and at least one is a successful crowdfunded project (yes, people are willing to pay for a bartender who doesn’t sneer when you order a Malibu bay breeze–so I like fruity drinks, so the hell what?). Check out the gallery for a peek at tomorrow’s most talented bartenders.
Unveiled in 2006, Winebot is a robot sommelier that uses an infrared spectrometer to taste wine. Then it cross-references the taste against a pre-programmed database, identifies the wine type and flavor, and recommends food pairings. Perfect for: impressing friends at wine and cheese parties. Skip if: you’re serving Franzia.
The Lazy Drinker
The Lazy Drinker is the least robot-like of the drinking robots, but don’t be fooled by its humble appearance. Built inside a cooler, the Lazy Drinker is a series of tubes hooked up between bottles of liquor and and a spigot; software on a laptop programs the drinks and CO2 pressure provides the pouring power. The Popular Science staff tested it out in 2006 against a human bartender, and found that while it made faster cocktails, it also made them worse. Perfect for:livening up a tailgate party. Skip if:you want a cocktail that actually tastes good.
Similar to the Lazy Drinker, the MyFountain is an automated drink-pouring machine. Unlike the Lazy Drinker, the MyFountain is all luxury. It’s built on top of a minifridge, and is filled with 12 kinds of liquor. Drinks recipes can be programmed through a touch screen or loaded online. The machine pours your drink into a glass, then uses water to clean the nozzle for the next cocktail. Prefect for: convincing a time traveler from 1990 that you live in the future. Skip if: you’re worried people won’t be impressed by a Windows XP touchscreen interface.
Grippy Lego Hand
Max Shepard’s Lego arm can grab and pass a drink as smoothly as… well, as smoothly as a robot can. It can only lift a couple pounds, which should be fine for anyone who isn’t drinking a handle of vodka. Perfect for: picking up a solo cup and signalling you need a refill. Skip if: see aforementioned handle of vodka.
Laskmi-Do Corporation’s Table Robot is a butlerbot that brings drinks to you. From 2009, this remotely controlled robot looks and acts like a Segway, wheeling around smoothly on two tiny wheels. A tray top can hold and balance up to 5 pounds. Perfect for: patio parties. Skip if: you have stairs.
Ball Balancing Bot
Designed by researchers at Japan’s Tohoku Gakuin University, this robot has a very small footprint. It balances on a ball, and can turn tight corners precisely, all while balancing a cinder block, or a tray of shot glasses, on top of its glass base. Once in place, it can work as a table, before it is called away to deliver a fresh tray of libations elsewhere. Perfect for: Anything, really. I’m jealous I don’t have one as my bedside table. Skip if: I can’t think of anything. Seriously, I want one right now.
Everything we’ve seen so far has only been part of the bar–the mixologist, the hand that serves a drink, the table that brings it. Bar2-D2 is the complete package. Made by a hobbyist and salesman, Bar2-D2 can serve beers, make cocktails, and wheel over to someone badly in need of some refreshment. It also serves ice! Perfect for: anyone skeptical that alcohol and robots can mix. Skip if: actually accompanying C-3PO to save the galaxy; all those drinks will get in the way of lightsaber storage.
Bartris is a robotic bartender that makes you play video games for drinks. It plays like Tetris, with a twist: the blocks are color-coded to match drink ingredients. There are three colors: brown for coke, gray for rum, and blue for water. Play badly, and the drink Bartris pours could be coke-flavored water, with nary a drop of rum in sight. Prefer Mario to Tetris? There’s a version of that as well, which converts crushed goombas into splashes of rum and grabbed coins into drops of Coke. Perfect for: gamers who drink. Skip if: you’re bad at Tetris.
This crowdfunded machine is made by that awesomely named Party Robotics. It works with a tablet or smartphone, comes with an open-source cocktail menu, and can serve more than 200 drinks in an evening. It also cleans up in as little as 5 minutes. As much as I like making cocktails myself, I’m pretty sure this robot is the steam drill to my John Henry. They key to Bartendro? Pumps. Elaborate pumps, software, food-grade plastic tubing, and the ever-popular robotic brain that is the Raspberry Pi all combine with a user-supplied array of liquor to make a machine that dispenses a myriad of cocktails. Given the open nature of the programming, it’s customizable, so one of these things could probably be rigged up to a motion sensor and automatically make a Manhattan whenever the owner comes home. Probably. Perfect for: the party host that needs to make a lot of cocktails very precisely very quickly. Skip if: all that technology is only going to be making rail drinks. Not that it can’t do them, but it seems like a waste of the machine.
A collaboration between MIT and an Italian architecture firm, the MakrShakr can make up to a googol (1 followed by 100 zeroes) cocktails. There’s an app that comes with it, and while in line patrons can browse the cocktail menu or create their own drink. Once at the bar, three robot arms prepare and serve drinks with movements based on ballet dancers. Perfect for: convincing a time traveler from 2013 that they’re actually in the future. Skip if: you hate ballet.
The best bartenders not only serve a good drink, but gently let people know when they’ve had too much. SOBEaR lets a drunk down gently – breath into its face, and it’ll pour an appropriate drink: potent for the sober, non-alcoholic for the intoxicated. There’s an alcohol sensor hidden under the fuzzy exterior, and the panda is programmed to pour only what the person needs, not what they say they need. Perfect for: the end of a party. Skip if: being denied alcohol by a panda in a bow-tie makes you want to throw something.