Will Silicon Valley-Funded Robots Send Starbucks Baristas To Unemployment Lines?

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Written by Ann Brown

Everywhere you turn automation is taking on jobs that used to be done by men and women, especially as more companies seek to cut labor costs and minimum wages rise across the country. Automation may be coming to your local coffee bar, if the folks behind Cafe X get their way–and Silicon Valley is leading the way.

Cafe X recently opened in San Francisco. It’s a robot that serves your coffee.

“You order at an iPad-powered kiosk, or using Cafe X’s app. Pick your espresso drink, choose from three kinds of beans, and decide whether you want a little syrup, a lot of super, or Insane Syrup. Then pay, and press order. The robot barista then spins around, grabs a cup from the dispenser, and sticks it under the industrial-grade WMF espresso machine. One robot can make several drinks at once, and each takes about 20 seconds. Once your drink is ready, you type in a four-digit pin code, reach into the hatch, and grab your white cup printed with Cafe X’s logo,” Wired reported.

The robotic barista, which costs $25,000, can make 120 cups of coffee per hour and fulfill 300 to 400 orders a day, CNBC reported. The bot can whip up espressos, flat whites, and cortados.

Robots might be the wave of the future, especially in the restaurant business. Many restaurants and coffee shops have been investing in automation, and this automation is replacing human servers. “A 2017 report found that between 6 million and 7.5 million retail jobs could become automated in the coming years, leaving a large portion of the retail workforce at risk of becoming ‘stranded workers,’” Business Insider reported.

Cafe X was launched through a grant from billionaire PayPal co-founder Peter Thiel‘s foundation. It’s backed by well-known investors including Khosla Ventures and angel investor Jason Calacanis, who have given Café X $7 million in funding. Coffee roasters such as Intelligentsia, Ritual, and Equator partnered with Café X Technologies to create the robot barista, CNBC reported.

“The idea of humans making coffee for 10 hours a day is as crazy in 2018 as a tollbooth collector sitting in a metal box on a freeway,” Calacanis told CNBC. “It’s also torture for the customer. Baristas get orders wrong, drink quality is wildly inconsistent, and coffee places don’t keep a record of every customer’s past drink order–but you can do all this with robotics.”

The robot’s creators don’t see a problem with automation replacing human labor.

“I don’t see the robot revolution as a problem,” 24-year-old inventor Henry Hu told CNBC. “The idea isn’t to scare you or harm you in any way. The point is to get you your coffee as quickly and deliciously as possible.”

Another thing that the robots have going for them, according to their makers, is that they drag prices down.

At Café X, most coffee drinks are priced at $3, with nothing costing more than $4, since there are no workers to pay and minimal overhead costs. Plus, there is no reason for customers to tip.

Cafe X isn’t new. There has been one serving coffee at the Hong Kong Science Park for some time. The one in San Francisco is the first American kiosk.

Starbucks, however, says it has no plans to use these robot baristas any time soon.