South Korean cafe uses robotic baristas to comply with social distancing

A robotic arm prepares drinks while a wheeled bot delivers them.


With its COVID-19 outbreak seemingly contained, South Korea may offer the rest of the world a glimpse of what society could look like after the pandemic ends -- and it may include robotic baristas. According to Reuters, a cafe in Daejeon, South Korea, is now using robots to prepare drinks and deliver them to customers. Proponents say the robots could encourage “distancing in daily life.”

The barista system consists of a robotic arm that prepares 60 different beverages and wheeled bots that deliver the drinks to customers. The system can communicate with other devices, contains self-driving tech to determine the best route around people and tables and communicates with customers via voice controls.

South Korea's robotic barista

“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 well with the current ‘untact’ and distancing campaign,” said Lee Dong-bae, director of research at Vision Semicon, the smart factory provider that worked with a state-run science institute to bring the robots to the cafe.

These aren’t the first robotic waiters we’ve seen, and restaurants from California to Boston have experimented with tech like robotic woks and burger flippers. But the need for social distancing may speed up the robotic food service trend. While automation could put jobs at risk, we’ve also seen robots used to create jobs for people with physical disabilities. The robot apocalypse may not be all bad, but we won’t know for sure until it arrives in full force.