Health and Healthcare Systems

South Korean cafe hires robot barista to help with social distancing

Customers wait at a cafe where a robot that takes orders, makes coffee and brings the drinks straight to customers is being used in Daejeon, South Korea, May 25, 2020. REUTERS/Kim Hong-Ji - RC2FVG9HKKJ0

Coronavirus is changing the way coffee is made and served in South Korea. Image: REUTERS/Kim Hong-Ji

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  • A cafe in Daejeon, South Korea, is using robots to make customers coffee to maintain social distancing.
  • The system can make 60 different types of drinks, and serve customers at their tables.
  • An order of six drinks, processed through a kiosk, takes seven minutes.
  • There is only one human employee at the cafe, responsible for cleaning and refills.

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

"Here is your Rooibos almonds 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 robot.

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After managing to contain an outbreak of the new coronavirus that infected more than 11,000 and killed 269, South Korea is slowly transitioning from intensive social distancing rules towards 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, the smart factory solution provider that developed the robot barista.

"Our system needs no input from people from order to delivery, and tables are sparsely arranged to ensure smooth movements of the robots, which fits well with the current 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.

A robot that takes orders, makes coffee and brings the drinks straight to customers is seen in a cafe in Daejeon, South Korea, May 25, 2020. REUTERS/Kim Hong-Ji - RC2FVG9J9GCA
The robot uses calculations to determine the best way to navigate itself around the cafe. Image: REUTERS/Kim Hong-Ji

An order of six drinks, processed through a kiosk, took just seven minutes. The only human employee at the two-storey cafe was a patissier who also has some cleaning duties and refills ingredients.

A robot that takes orders, makes coffee and brings the drinks straight to customers delivers an order in a cafe in Daejeon, South Korea, May 25, 2020. REUTERS/Kim Hong-Ji - RC2FVG9NSJCM
The robots brings the drinks to your table. Image: REUTERS/Kim Hong-Ji

The manufacturer aims to supply at least 30 cafes with robots this year. It is also working with a state-run science institute on an upgrade that would add big data and artificial intelligence technology to make custom drinks.

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

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