Several companies at CES 2017 had robots that made hot caffeinated beverages. While all these robots drew crowds, not all were created equal.
Patrick HollandManaging Editor
Patrick Holland has been a phone reviewer for CNET since 2016. He is a former theater director who occasionally makes short films. Patrick has an eye for photography and a passion for everything mobile. He is a colorful raconteur who will guide you through the ever-changing, fast-paced world of phones, especially the iPhone and iOS. He used to co-host CNET's I'm So Obsessed podcast and interviewed guests like Jeff Goldblum, Alfre Woodard, Stephen Merchant, Sam Jay, Edgar Wright and Roy Wood Jr.
Patrick's play The Cowboy is included in the Best American Short Plays 2011-12 anthology. He co-wrote and starred in the short film Baden Krunk that won the Best Wisconsin Short Film award at the Milwaukee Short Film Festival.
Picture this: You walk through a crowded convention center and off to the side you notice a huddle of smiling people engrossed in a demo. You walk over to the booth and see a large robotic arm handing a person a cappuccino. This was the scene at several booths at CES 2017. But after having three different robots make me coffee, tea and a cappuccino, which one did it the best?
All of the robots had one or more large articulating arms and all made actual beverages to be consumed.
The Bosch robot could make either a latte, a cappuccino or a coffee. The company Aubo had an orange robot that made a cup of hot tea. And Denso had a two arm robot that made a cup of pour over coffee.
Robot customer service
Hands down the Bosch cappuccino robot gave the best customer service. It asked me for my name, what kind of coffee beverage I wanted and wished me well when it gave me my cup of joe. This robot did not talk, but rather projected words onto the counter top. I interacted with the robot by tapping on the projected opinions.
For example, when it asked what beverage I wanted, it projected three circles onto the counter top: one for a cappuccino, one for a latte, and one for an americano. I tapped on the projected cappuccino button and the robot validated my choice by projecting the words "good choice".
Both the Aubo and Denso robots offered no such interaction.
The entertainment of making a drink
Whereas the Bosch cappuccino robot was all about customer service, the Aubo tea robot and Denso coffee robot were all about putting on a hot beverage show.
The Aubo tea robot heated a kettle of water, scooped a spoonful of tea leaves, poured the hot water over the tea leaves and poured the tea into a cup.
The Denso coffee robot was my favorite to watch, largely because it had two robot arms that worked in sync to make a pour-over coffee. One robot arm prepped the filter while the second arm poured hot water over the grounds. When it got to the bottom of the kettle of water, the robot even flicked its hand to get all the water out.
When the Denso robot removed the filter and grounds, one arm picked up the spent filter while the other moved the glass pot underneath it to catch any drippings. Finally, the arm holding the glass pot poured the fresh coffee into white paper cups.
To make a cappuccino, the Bosch robot just pushed a couple of buttons on an automated machine which did all the work.
It's also worth noting that the Bosch cappuccino robot made a food handling error. It stuck its fingers into the cup multiple times. This is a big no-no especially because it wasn't wearing a food service glove.
The Denso coffee robot entertained the most while preparing its beverage.
Taste test and winner
All the robots made good drinks -- none were bad. The cappuccino the Bosch made tasted as good as a cappuccino from Starbucks. The cup even had my name on it -- spelled correctly!
The cup of tea the Aubo robot made was delicious. It was steeped perfectly and tasted great.
But the cup of pour-over coffee the Denso robot made was the best hands down. It was smooth and lively. Seriously, slap a man bun on this robot and get it to charge me $6.
The overall winner was definitely the Denso coffee robot. Despite its quiet engagement, the robot made the best beverage and put on the best show.
What's next for these coffee and tea robots?
None of these robots are going to be invading your local coffee shop anytime soon. But all showcased a technology that might be used in future products or services.
The Bosch robot showcased a projected interface for people to interact with robots. The Aubo robot was all about demonstrating the intricate movements a large robot arm is capable of. And the Denso robot showed how it can make nuanced movements as well as synchronize its two arms.
As far as coffee and tea? I am excited to get back to my local coffee shop that offers great customer service and great coffee without giant robot arms.