Robots are slowly but surely entering the service industry, and Kawada Industries’ robot barista might be the smoothest yet. In fact, it’s downright hypnotic. The robot, NEXTAGE, made its coffee-slinging debut in October at Japan Robot Week. Customers ordered their drink on a tablet computer and Nextage did the rest. In three minutes, the robot smoothly and quickly whirred through the process of preparing a cup of coffee, complete with a basket containing a packet of cream and a stirring straw. In a company video depicting the process, elevator music enhances the entrancing display.
NEXTAGE is a multipurpose robot designed for use in research and industry. Head-mounted cameras in stereo vision allow it to form a 3D picture of its environment, and hand-mounted cameras give it a 3D picture of the objects its handling. Hiro, the reprogrammable research version of Nextage, is already being put to use by Airbus on the factory line.
NEXTAGE is the latest in a series of industrial robots being put to use in the service industry. Previously, MIT researchers and tech design firm SuperUber programmed a KUKA Robotics industrial single-arm robot to mix a perfect cocktail. Baxter, a robot designed by ReThink Robotics with industrial applications in mind, has also been put to the test preparing a cup of Keurig coffee.
While Baxter is able to serve a coffee in under two minutes, it’s not exactly graceful, has to have the Keurig packet pre-opened, and doesn’t give you a nice basket of extras like NEXTAGE does.
Whatever Kawada Industry’s intentions are, and despite NEXTAGE’s impressive serving skills, it has to be said that a cup of Keurig is bullshit. Straight up. Apparently, it still takes a human’s touch and creativity to serve up a decent latte.