Bottoms up with these boozy bot bartenders -- but beware the hefty tab

Drink-dispensing Somabar and D-Vine have gone from Kickstarter campaign to real products, but are they worth a few hundred dollars apiece?

Richard Trenholm Former Movie and TV Senior Editor
Richard Trenholm was CNET's film and TV editor, covering the big screen, small screen and streaming. A member of the Film Critic's Circle, he's covered technology and culture from London's tech scene to Europe's refugee camps to the Sundance film festival.
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Richard Trenholm
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The D-Vine smart appliance aims to serve up a divine drop of wine every time.

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Can you put a price on a perfect pour? The cocktail-mixing "robot bartender" Somabar and the wine-dispensing D-Vine both succeeded on Kickstarter, and are now on their way to becoming real products that you can buy. But for around $500 each, what do they offer the dedicated boozehound that a corkscrew and some ice won't do for free?

Somabar is an appliance roughly the size of a large coffee machine that holds six bottle-sized containers filled with whatever range of liquids you want to have on tap. That could be a variety of alcoholic and non-alcoholic spirits, fruit juices or other mixers. Each bottle has an RFID tag so you can tell the machine what it has in its robotic speedrail, mixing them to the perfect proportions when you select a boozy or virgin cocktail from the range of recipes in the Somabar app for your iPhone or Android device.

The wine-focused D-Vine is a black box on legs that takes up similar space on your counter, made by the French company 10-Vins. You place a special proprietary D-Vine bottle in the top and a glass underneath and it serves up the wine at the correct temperature. Each bottle is marked with an RFID tag so the machine automatically recognises it and serves it at the correct temperature.

Having reached their crowdfunding targets, both devices are coming to market. And the tab? Somabar will set you back $449 (roughly AU$625 or £305 converted), while D-Vine is set to cost around $500 (AU$700/£340, again converted). On top of that each refill will cost between $2 and $15 for about 4oz of wine, which is roughly enough for a glass.

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If those prices have made you spit-take your drink across your computer, let's find out what that price buys you. I asked 10-Vins' co-founder Luis Da Silva why the device beats a nice bottle and a corkscrew, and he explained that it's all about the quality of the experience. "If you have a friend come over," he explained in his rich French accent, "you don't need to open a bottle or have a bottle of white wine ready in the fridge to offer them a glass at the perfect conditions."

And Somabar's CEO Dylan Purcell-Low points out that Somabar connects to a wider world of cocktail experience. "Our consumers tend to order Somabar for the knowledge and convenience Somabar brings to one's kitchen," he told me, comparing it to a Keurig or Sodastream appliance. "Whereas most casual mixed drink fans only know a few recipes, Somabar has over 300 built-in recipes any of which can be made in under 10 seconds. Additionally, as it is a cloud-based system, anyone who has the Somabar app can upload their own customized recipe which can be downloaded and made to any Somabar in the world -- so it's a social network for cocktails."

He also points out that Somabar is self-cleaning. Similarly, when you change bottles in D-Vine, it recognises if a different wine has been added and warns you to clean the pipes so as not to contaminate the next glass.

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In the interest of fearless investigative journalism I tried out drinks from both appliances here at CES, the annual Las Vegas trade show where tech titans gather to show off their wares for the coming year. And very tasty they were too -- I particularly liked how versatile the Somabar was in creating a variety of cocktails instantly.

Still, even an incorrigible lush like your humble correspondent would think twice before laying out several hundred dollars when I could achieve the same effect with a book of cocktails and a cavalier disregard for the state of my liver. But as I stand in the environs of Las Vegas surrounded by connected appliances and smart homewares I can't helping thinking these boozy bots are way more fun than a smart lightbulb.

You might not be able to tell a robot bartender your troubles, but at least it won't cut you off. Cheers!