Robot barista helps South Korean cafe with social distancing

The new barista at the cafe in Daejeon, South Korea, is courteous and swift as it seamlessly makes its way toward customers.

“Here is your Rooibos almond 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 computer.

After managing to contain an outbreak of the new coronavirus that infected more than 11,000 people and killed 267, South Korea is slowly transitioning from intensive social distancing rules toward 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, a smart factory solution provider that developed the barista robot together with a state-run science institute.

“Our system needs no input from people, from order to delivery, and tables were sparsely arranged to ensure smooth movements of the , which fits well with the current ‘untact’ and 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-story cafe was a patissier who also has some cleaning duties and refills ingredients.

The manufacturer and the scientific institute aim to supply at least 30 cafes with robots this year.

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“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 … worried about the job market, as many of my friends are doing part-time at cafes and these robots would replace humans.”

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