The Barman is an Android

March 13, 2008

By and large, the displays on the tradeshow floor here at Seatrade have been pretty much what we expected from an annual cruise shipping conference: destination booths showcasing Martinique or the South of France; technical reps bloviating about their company's latest line of bilge cleaners; food distributors doling out samples of chocolate gelato; Robobar, the world's first two-armed robot bartender ... wait, what?

You read right. Designed to entertain while serving an essential purpose (much like a human bartender), Robobar is a fully automated drink dispenser that can be programmed to make and serve your choice of cocktail -- gin and tonic for me.

Though Robobar hasn't yet found its way onboard any cruise ships, product reps were enthusiastic that you will see them in the near future -- perhaps in a bar with a futuristic theme or even in the kids' club (serving non-alcoholic beverages, of course). Oh, and you don't have to worry about your underage kids borrowing your room key and getting liquored up on the sly by a robotender: Robobar is designed to work in conjunction with -- rather than replace -- the humanoid bartender, and is not designed to be left unsupervised.

Terminator or Fembot: Your Choice
The robot's head is a flat-screen TV with picture of male or female model ... there's even a built-in camera option that can snap your photo, and replace the stock faces with your own, though being served in the jazz lounge by a robot bearing your likeness might strike some as exceedingly creepy. Hey, at least you don't have to worry about finding yourself attracted to the bartender, which can make things weird on a long cruise. What's more, you can program the machine to say anything you like. In our case, Robobar's compliments -- "You look great. Have you lost weight?" -- were overly flattering.

"Hello. I am Robobar. How can I serve you, master?"
Here's how it would work: Simply type in your request on the touch screen, slide your room key, and the automaton slave will do the rest. Robobar grabs a paper cup gently with its gripper hands; pours your vodka, gin or rum; adds a mixer (and, maybe, a wink); and pushes your drink through a little door. The particular model on the Seatrade floor had nine different liquors and 10 different mixers, capable of concocting a countless array of alcoholic beverages. The blue and silver android (see photo) is capable of all necessary movements to make almost any mixed drink -- though salting a margarita glass might prove impossible, particularly since drinks on this particular model are served in paper cups.

And when it comes to tipping, Robobar insists that you stiff it, each and every time.

Danger, Will Robinson! Danger!
You might be wondering what happens when Robobar runs out of certain ingredient, or makes a mess. Well that's easy. It "knows" it's time for a refill when its gripper hands no longer have something to grip (out of cups, say), or the bottles are empty (based on weight) -- then it automatically sends an e-mail notification to a human, in case no one is standing by. Sadly, Robobar isn't equipped to clean ... yet. I predict, and this prediction was begrudgingly entertained by the engineer I was talking with, that in the very near future, these robotenders will indeed be capable of cleaning the bar that they man ... and dropping off pretzels and nuts.

--by Dan Askin, Assistant Editor More stories live from Seatrade 2008!