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Robot barista serves up coffee and social distancing in South Korea

Robot barista serves up coffee and social distancing in South Korea

The new barista at a cafe in Daejeon, South Korea, is courteous and swift as it seamlessly makes its way towards customers - but it is not a human.

Robot barista serves up coffee and social distancing in South Korea

“Here is your iced americano, please enjoy. It’s even better if you stir it,” the robot waiter says, as a customer reaches for his drink on a tray installed within the large, gleaming white capsule-shaped computer.

“This tastes the same as a coffee made by a human,” said Lee Jong-min, a 35-year-old office worker, while sipping his iced coffee, made and delivered by robots.

After managing to contain an outbreak of the new coronavirus which infected more than 11,000 people and killed 267, 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, a smart factory solution provider which developed the barista robot together with a state-run science institute.

“Our system needs no input from people from order to delivery, and tables were sparsely arranged to ensure smooth movements of the robots, which fits with the current ‘untact’ (no contact) and 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.

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 has to refill ingredients.

“I’m 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,” said student Lee Chae-mi, 23, who came to the cafe as a customer.

The manufacturer and the scientific institute aim to supply at least 30 cafes with similar robots this year.

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