From robot bartenders to robot chefs to robot waiters, it’s no secret that the food industry is going through something of an automation boom right now. The latest example of this is Bbox, a new coffee shop in downtown Berkeley, California that describes itself as the city’s first robot cafe.
Located in the University of Berkeley School of Public Health, Bbox uses robots and a mobile app to automate much of the coffee-ordering process. Just like ordering an Uber, customers input their coffee and pastry request using a smartphone or tablet, and then get told how long it will take for their order to be ready. At present, the cafe has some human staff on hand to guide customers through the ordering process. Eventually, however, it’s feasible that the whole process could be roboticized.
“Bev, the Bbox beverages robot, starts every morning by grinding fresh beans and brewing hot coffee locally sourced from [our partner] Highwire Coffee,” Greg Becker, founder of Nourish, the company behind Bbox, told Digital Trends. “Throughout service, Bev makes fresh coffee and fulfills customer orders for almond milk lattes, iced Americanos, orange juice, and other cafe beverages. Meanwhile, [another robot called] Jarvis runs the pastry line and delivery system, serving up fresh, locally sourced pastries from [bakery partner] Semifreddi’s and preparing customer orders for pickup.”
Few cafe owners describe their food and drink as too expensive, but in the case of Bbox, it genuinely delivers good value. By lowering its overhead, Bbox can pass these savings onto customers. For instance, a regular cup of coffee from Highwire costs up to $4. At Bbox, it’s just $1.75. While you can nitpick the concept by pointing out, correctly, that not having to pay humans does allow for prices to be dropped, it also benefits local businesses. That’s because lowering these costs makes it more cost effective to source local ingredients, which might otherwise prove too cost prohibitive.
“While still in beta, our customer response at Bbox has been fantastic,” Becker said. “It’s rewarding to see the excitement, and we’ve already generated loyalty among regulars. Over the next few months, we plan to roll out additional menu items and robotic capabilities, and then start scaling Bbox across the globe. With backing from [former Major League Baseball] All-Star Ryan Howard and his venture capital firm SeventySix Capital, our vision at Bbox is to own and operate a portfolio of the world’s largest restaurant chains, all run entirely by robots.”