Robot Baristas Replace Human Coffee Servers in Seoul

Coffee is just one of many industries which could be transformed by automated services in this tech-forward nation – a notion both exciting and worrisome as jobs become scarcer. Less than a minute after an order is placed, the robot sends a 4-digit code the customer can use to open a pick-up box. The robot can handle up to 14 drinks at a time. Drinks not retrieved within 10 minutes are thrown away, but another drink can be ordered at no extra charge.”It’s really fun and convenient,” says Choi Eun Jin, a 30-year-old office worker.

“The area is crowded with office workers and local residents during lunchtime. So it’s good to have a robot like this … so you can get your coffee more easily.”The Dal.komm Coffee franchise has 45 robot-equipped outlets and says it’s operating the country’s first commercialised robot cafes. They’re in shopping malls, company cafeterias, schools and an airport.A Dal.komm Coffee robot can brew 90 cups an hour and about 300 cups a day on a single charge of beans and supplies. The drinks cost 2 to 3 US Dollars.

Managers visit once a day on average to inspect and clean the robots. They also monitor them remotely through surveillance cameras and sensors.While some customers like the convenience and novelty of robot coffee, others are not so keen.”Personally I prefer human baristas more because the robot can’t customise drinks as delicately as humans can. I like weak coffee, but the robot is unable to control the strength of coffee well. Also there is a delay in getting your drink when there are lots of people as a single robot needs to take care of all the orders. The orders could be processed more quickly if there were multiple human baristas,” says a 30-year-old office worker, Lee Sang Jin. Later this year, the robot’s developer says it plans to launch an upgraded, faster and smarter version of the robot cafe.

It will be able to recognise voices and customer movements and offer personalised menu suggestions.South Korean industries, including restaurants, convenience stores, supermarkets, banks and manufacturers are relying increasingly on robots and other automation. But not without protest: many Koreans, especially the young, are struggling to find work. Recently workers staged a strike, protesting growing use of unmanned small tower cranes at construction sites. Labour unions have also protested against the use of automated check-out counters at Emart, South Korea’s biggest supermarket chain.

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