The global COVID-19 pandemic forced businesses worldwide to come up with inventive solutions as hotels and restaurants looked for safe ways to serve customers, and robots have been one of the more prominent answers. As such, bars in Spain's Seville have gotten used to the idea of robot bartenders.
The “Spot,” a robot created by Boston Dynamics and partner Spain-based Macco Robotics, is the trusted bartender in the unique Spanish bar. Before the pandemic, robots like these were sometimes used in Spain as a marketing tool to grab attention at events.
Now, they're serving customers in the bars of Seville to help stop the spread of COVID-19. The idea is to deliver beers directly to customers, therefore minimizing contact and maintaining virus safety measures.
"I think that in times of pandemic it is very good that there is a robot serving drinks so there is no contact between people. It's very cool!" said bar visitor Abel Ros.
Pouring the perfect pint is no easy task. As well as pulling the tap, the glass needs to be angled correctly.
That's what Cart, a tabletop robot, has been programmed to do. The robotic arm is fitted with a screen reader that allows the client's ID to be scanned. Customers pay at the bar and the waiter starts the robot remotely.
So, could this signal the end of human bar staff?
"It is true that here (in Seville, Spain) it is something that is very difficult for us to see (to understand) because we like people, we like a lot the proximity and we like to deal with the person behind the bar and who serves us the beer," said bar visitor Francisco Javier Muños.
Victor Martin, the CEO of Macco Robotics, says robots can add value to human tasks, rather than replace human workers entirely.
"In the end, we are transforming, we are improving job quality because what we do is that professionals in the (culinary) industry dedicate themselves to adding value and offering other types of work within the catering business," he told The Associated Press (AP).
The creators of these robots say their aim is to help the hospitality industry increase its revenue, by allowing extended operating hours, increasing productivity and reducing food waste.
They're working with food and delivery companies as well as culinary colleges, hotels and restaurants in order to understand pain points in the industry.
Hospitality is one of the industries that has been most affected by COVID-19. Lockdowns and fewer tourist visits have had a great impact on beer consumption in Spain.
Beer sales in Spain's bars and restaurants fell 40% in the first semester of 2020, according to Spanish beer association Cerveceros de España.
It's not just about beer either as Macco Robotics' creations can also prepare and deliver several kinds of beverages to guests, says Martin.
"Our robots prepare beers, cocktails, juices, smoothies, coffee. Not only they do prepare those, but they (robots) also deliver them to the table," he said and added, "We want to completely automate (culinary service), we want to improve quality controls and the operating costs in order to be able to increase bar and restaurant working hours."
Macco Robotics was founded at the end of 2013 in Seville, after completing the design and manufacture of its first waiter robot. They currently have four commercial robots.
Kime is a multi-tasking, two-square-meter bartender. It has a robotic head, torso and two articulating arms that can be used for drinks, but also to package food. It can pour a beer in 23 seconds, said Macco.
The company is now turning its focus to the fast food and health industries, with the aim of creating a robot that can select dishes based on the individual nutritional requirements of the customer. "Pretty soon, we will try to connect the nutrition status of the humans, to the robots," explained chief technology officer Kishhanth Renganathan.
"So, that means that every human can customize their food depending on the nutrition status and not just as a flavor. So, if you wanted to define a calorie-based food, you can tell the robot what is the calorie you want to consume, and the robot is going to decide based on your nutrition status the food that can be appropriate for you. So, what we are aiming here with robots is mass customized food," Renganathan stated.
Macco Robotics also hopes to extend its services into agriculture.
The company is developing apps to measure the temperature and humidity of trees and the ripeness of fruits. It is set to open a factory in Portugal later this year.