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Future Tech: 

Robot barista learns on the job



Robots are great, but if they’re ever going to become as widespread as science fiction has promised, then they need to up their game. We can do amazing things with robots, but as things stand, they’re limited to doing one job very well. That’s why scientists at Cornell have been working on a coffee-making robot that can learn how to use different coffee machines. That or they’re really thirsty, and can’t work their machines properly.

The robot above uses its history of working with coffee machines – as well as text materials and other robots’ experience – to work with machines it has never seen before. The same principal that guides recruitment for humans should be applicable to robots too – has this man or woman worked in the industry before?  This robot has operated three coffee machines before, so this new model with built in caffeine-magnetizer* should be simple.

When the robot is given a new coffee machine, it doesn’t need to discard everything it has learned up to this point. A button will always be a button, any switch will function as a switch and a tap will always require twisting. With that information in place, the robot can learn how to adapt its past knowledge to new materials. Bad news for professional baristas.

The good news for the same professional baristas, however, is that currently the Robot Barista only has a 60 percent accuracy rate when working with new machines. This will definitely get better, but one of the stumbling blocks its designers are having is with the metallic designs of the tools: the Robot Barista works in part through a 3D camera, and the shiny surfaces often throw it off the correct path. They’re planning on getting around this with a sense of touch for tactile feedback. They also want to add visual monitoring to stop it from bumping into things while working, before HR needs to have a word. Finally, it’s going to be programmed to work to trial and error, so that it can learn through its mistakes. Assuming its not fired for scolding a customer first.

The Cornell team will be presenting a paper on Robo Barista at the 2015 Robotic Science and Systems conference in Rome later this year. In the meantime, here’s how the Robot Barista makes a latte. Note the total lack of small-talk. That’s something we can get behind.

* We don’t drink coffee at Go Explore. That sounds like a thing, right?

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