South Korean cafe hires robot barista to help with social distancing

by Reuters
Tuesday, 26 May 2020 06:53 GMT

Customers wait at a cafe where a robot that takes orders, makes coffee and brings the drinks straight to customers is being used in Daejeon, South Korea, May 25, 2020. REUTERS/Kim Hong-Ji

Image Caption and Rights Information

As South Korea transitions to "distancing in daily life" this robot barista is one of the tech-driven solutions for social distancing

(Clarifies developer, adds upgrade efforts in paragraphs 4, 8)

By Hyonhee Shin

DAEJEON, South Korea, May 25 (Reuters) - The new robot barista at a cafe in Daejeon, South Korea, is courteous and swift as it seamlessly makes its way towards customers.

"Here is your Rooibos almonds tea latte, please enjoy. It's even better if you stir it," it says, as a customer reaches for her drink on a tray installed within the large, gleaming white, capsule-shaped robot.

After managing to contain an outbreak of the new coronavirus that infected more than 11,000 and killed 269, South Korea is slowly transitioning from intensive social distancing rules towards what the government calls "distancing in daily life".

Robots could help people observe social distancing in public, said Lee Dong-bae, director of research at Vision Semicon, the smart factory solution provider that developed the robot barista.

"Our system needs no input from people from order to delivery, and tables are sparsely arranged to ensure smooth movements of the robots, which fits well with the current distancing campaign," he said.

The system, which uses a coffee-making robotic arm and a serving robot, can make 60 different types of coffee and serves the drinks to customers at their seats. It can also communicate and transmit data to other devices and contains self-driving technology to calculate the best routes around the cafe.

An order of six drinks, processed through a kiosk, took just seven minutes. The only human employee at the two-storey cafe was a patissier who also has some cleaning duties and refills ingredients.

The manufacturer aims to supply at least 30 cafes with robots this year. It is also working with a state-run science institute on an upgrade that would add big data and artificial intelligence technology to make custom drinks.

"Robots are fun and it was easy because you don't have to pick up your order," said student Lee Chae-mi, 23.

"But I'm also a bit of worried about the job market as many of my friends are doing part-time jobs at cafes and these robots would replace humans." (Reporting by Hyonhee Shin; Editing by Raissa Kasolowsky and Tom Hogue)