Man or machine? Robot bartender goes head-to-head with humans
We’ve got robots that can vacuum our floors, robots that can pull up a recipe or the perfect song with a voice command, and even robot security guards.
Now, a robot can mix you a cocktail if you’re too tired to do it yourself.
But is it better than a good old-fashioned, flesh-and-blood bartender?
Makr Shakr is the company behind the new robot bartender, but the elegant white machine goes by “Toni.”
“(Toni) can crush ice, he can put lime, lemon, white and brown sugar and (up to) 200 ingredients, different ingredients, in order to create a new cocktail,” said Lorenzo Risitano, project manager for Makr Shakr.
Toni’s setup includes two white mechanical arms that can grasp cups and shakers, and an overhanging ceiling covered in colour-coded bottles of spirits. The six-axis arms can swivel in every direction and are waterproof, according to Makr Shakr’s website, and there are 158 bottles mounted on the overhang.
To create a drink, Toni’s arm raises a shaker to the ceiling for nozzles to deposit the right amount of mix and alcohol, then whirls the mixture around and around in its steely grasp. Its movements are modelled after Italian choreographer and dancer Marco Pelle.
Toni’s skills were tested one evening at “AI: More Than Human,” a new exhibition at the Barbican Center in London, England. On a recent night, visitors could watch the robot go head-to-head with a group of human bartenders to see who could provide the best drinking experience.
“It’s a very impressive piece of kit, but I think of all the industries to try and usurp mankind, bartending is probably the hardest for a robot to succeed,” said Felix Cohen, one of the six bartenders who came in to defend bartending as a human specialty at the exhibition.
There were two rounds: one to make a negroni — a popular Italian cocktail, with gin, sweet vermouth, and Campari— and one to make a signature cocktail called “More than Human,” and based on the concept of the exhibition.
Four judges tasted the drinks made by Toni and its human counterparts and graded them to answer the question that has been posed countless times since the Industrial Revolution.
Who is better: man or machine?
Ultimately, when it comes to alcohol, it seems humans still have the edge.
“When you’re trying to do it with a robotic (arm) and a shaker, for me it just doesn’t work for a negroni,” said Dawn Davies, one of the contest judges. “Negroni needs to be stirred. There needs to be a bit of love.”
Makr Shakr’s website claims Toni can make 80 drinks in an hour. But there is more to creating a cocktail than mechanical precision and speed, Cohen says.
“Who is welcoming you as you walk in the door and making sure that you get to a taxi at the end of the night?” Cohen said. “You don’t go to a bar just for the cocktails, you go to a bar for the social experience, and the machines are not social.”
It’s unlikely that bars will be replacing their human staff with multiple Tonis anytime soon.
But if you absolutely need to try machine-mixed beverages, the “AI: More than Human” exhibition will be up until Aug 26. There’s plenty of time still to get a drink from the robot at the Barbican, or simply enjoy its dance-like movements.