The best way to get the attention of a bunch of sleep-deprived, possibly hungover SXSW Interactive attendees? Coffee-slinging robotic arms, naturally. GE's fully embracing Austin's caffeinated food trick culture with a pair of Barista Bots, arms that operate similarly to your standard 3D printer, moving along the X, Y and Z axes to extrude coffee through a syringe, atop a latte's foam. The process starts when one of the robot's human barista counterparts takes a shot of an image with a webcam, digitizing it on a nearby computer. Then the arm goes to work.
It's an imperfect science, of course. For one thing, foam is a really difficult canvas to work on, what with all the unevenness of constantly popping bubbles. There's also an awful lot of wind in Austin today, and with all those people inside, the van did a little bit of rocking. We saw some more complex images that didn't come out particularly well (facial scans, for one thing), so we decided to throw something a simpler at the 'bot, drawing our "e" logo on a sheet of paper.
GE Barista Bot hands-on
Again, not perfect (due in part to the fact that this is more of a promotional initiative than an actual robot set to put Starbucks employees across the country out on the street), but the familiar letter and waves were certainly there by the time the arm finished its work. As for the coffee? Delicious.
Zach Honig contributed to this report.