The bartender has long been a fixture of Western culture: one who greets us at the end of a long work day with a cold pint or a colourful cocktail; one who is personified in literature and film as willing (or perhaps begrudging) to lend a sympathetic ear to the down-trodden or the broken-hearted. But this storied image is one we tend to associate with quiet pubs and cozy neighbourhood locals. What of the hectic clubs? What of the busy airport lounges, where every minute is of the essence?
Such was the inspiration behind YANU, a fully autonomous AI and robot empowered bartending unit. Developed by RoboLab, an Estonian startup with a focus on creative robotics for the service industry, YANU is specifically designed to streamline the process of ordering drinks and to decrease wait times in hectic environments. According to RoboLab CEO Alan Adojaan in a piece for Medium, the machine is “faster, cheaper, and more reliable than average workers, and has AI-powered communication abilities.”
As for these communication abilities, the YANU team describes this invention as having more than just a personality — indeed, it is proclaimed to possess a soul. “Its spirit can be sensed when taking your order. You converse with something that is almost supernatural, but very real,” says the site. A robot that can replace the bartender’s ability to mix drinks as well as converse? That’s a tall order — pun intended. But YANU has been claimed to do just that.
Standing at almost three metres in height, this device handles each step of the transaction, from taking orders and processing payment to mixing the drinks. The YANU is a cloud-based device that operates with little upkeep; simply monitor, clean, and refill the unit to ensure its continued efficiency. Administration and monitoring of sales and stock can be done via the cloud, while customers can make use of a convenient app for interactive and mobile touchscreen ordering. (The unit accepts credit card and mobile payments.) Once an order is placed, the cocktail is mixed and served with a robotic arm.
YANU is interactive, conversing with customers through an AI chatbot that also boasts advertising possibilities. It’s as yet unclear whether these “possibilities” refer to branded beverage ads or the potential to outsource to third parties, which would turn this unit into an advertising platform as well as a fully functioning bar. Needless to say, this would increase the potential revenue stream of the unit.
YANU’s speeds are impressive; it can make up to two hundred drinks an hour, and with the capacity to hold fifty bottles per load, the unit can whip up anywhere between fifteen hundred and two thousand cocktails before needing to be re-stocked. This, of course, far outpaces human capabilities. And, like most service robots, the big sell here is the bottom line: circumventing human labour means low operating costs, especially when considering labour taxation and sick days.
While the YANU is toted as being lifelike and entertaining, it’s hard to imagine this robot ever replacing the beloved bartenders of our regular haunts. We can, however, see this as being a prime option for pop-ups and high-traffic venues. Given that the unit is collapsible and easily transportable in a twenty inch-high shipping container, it makes sense for festivals and one-time events. There’s also a novelty factor at play here, which the YANU team is well aware of; they describe the unit as a “thrilling concept that draws a bigger audience to your venue.” And with three colour choices available — Shadow Black, Royalty Red, and Virgin White— there are some customization options that will allow this unit to complement a bar’s interior design or an event’s colour scheme.
We may well be heading in the direction of an AI-dominated service industry, though it’s hard to imagine a world without casual human contact in our day-to-day, goods-and-services interactions. (Consider, for instance, the outcry against the Bodega startup last year, which aimed to put local mom-and-pop convenience stores out of business.) But there’s a time and a place for technology when it comes to making our lives a little more comfortable and efficient, and we imagine the clever YANU will find its own niche in the service industry before long.