Barbot last Saturday was a blast. I can’t think of anyone who wouldn’t love this event, which showcases the latest in maker-made cocktail-mixing robots. Barbot is produced by the same organization that puts on Robogames.
Most of the Barbots and their teams are returnees from previous years, but as with the DARPA Grand Challenges, the…ah… bar raises very quickly from one event to the next as the innovations pour forth. This year’s bots were all beautiful, with gracious interfaces. On the back end, they took different approaches to the problem of how to dispense precise quantities of source liquids consistently.
The hot young newcomer was the Santa Barbot, built by a team of recent engineering grads from UC Santa Barbara (Zachary Rubin, Andrew Ballinger, Paul Filitchkin, and Ethan Zakai). They decided to participate in the event just 11 days before it opened, embarking on a massive, sleepless design and coding binge to make it in time. The last pieces of code were written in the car ride up from Santa Barbara to San Francisco. The system has a host computer with webserver that enables drink selection via mobile devices. Once the user makes the selection, an Arduino controls a semicircular array of nozzle/pump assemblies lifted from Nerf Super Soaker battery-powered squirt guns, along with matching colorful LEDs. One by one, the liquids shoot through the air into a cup placed in the center of the semicircle as the LEDs highlight the source bottle, and when the drink is done, all the LEDs flash in sequence. Meantime, the bartender character Lloyd from Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining looks on from a flat-screen TV. As Andrew explains, “He stares deep into your soul and then gets you drunk with robotic uncaring and precision.”
The Party Robotics team (Pierre Michael and Robert Kaye), whose work is veering dangerously close to commercial viability, showed off Bartendro. Above a gleaming metal panel, it uses peristaltic pumps to precisely dispense from inverted bottles up top. Vent tubes stick up above the liquid level inside the bottles to equalize the air pressure inside, running to small holes in the sided of the rubber plugs. Each bottle has its own controller board, with centralized control coming from a BeagleBoard and a touchscreen interface in front.
The fascinating and elegant Drink Making Unit 2.0 from Evil Mad Science Laboratories (aka Evil Mad Science, Lenore Edman and Windell Oskay) has a laboratory glassware aesthetic. Liquids are pushed from their flasks into flexible tubes by battery-powered backup aquarium air pumps — which enabled the DMU 2.0 to continue operating through a brief power outage at about 11pm. The liquids then dispense into angled graduated cylinders that swivel and tip sideways into the cocktail glass once they’re full and top-heavy. As they tip, reflective tape on the side interrupts an IR emitter and sensor pair, which triggers the flow to stop and tells the controller to fill the next cylinder. Users specify their desired drinks via a control panel, by assigning their six allotted mix units to each ingredient, and then hitting the Launch button.
Anthony Fudd built and programmed his super cute TipsyBot entirely out of Lego and Lego Mindstorms components. The bot mixes Screwdrivers because, as Anthony explains, the screwdriver is an important tool for many creative pursuits. The TipsyBot’s small car carries your cocktail glass along a tabletop railway from the serving station to the mixing station, where two servomotor platforms tip and pour the vodka and OJ from bottles for precisely programmed amounts of time. When the mixing is done, the car delivers the cocktail back to you.
With an ever-changing LED glow, fountain interior, and classic chemistry graphics, the ThinBot (by Kevin Roche and Andrew Trembley) serves the drinks and celebrates the elegance of the 1930’s Thin Man movies, during which all characters imbibe cocktails constantly. Thinbot’s electronics are housed on top, above the liquid line, where they can never get inadvertently dripped or poured on. Of course, ThinBot’s drinks are served with cocktail napkins– emblazoned with a blueprint for a proper martini.
The rocketship-shaped CosmoBot (by Samuel M Coniglio IV, Ken Mochel, Joe Phillips, and Katherine Becvar) quenches all of our thirst for space travel. Set the dial to your preferred drink, hit the Launch button, and watch the bot pressurize the cabin, spew dry-ice clouds, and dispense professional bartender calibrated proportions into your glass. Like the Drink Making Unit 2.0, the CosmoBot uses aquarium pumps to dispense the goods.
Other barbots at the event included the Elixirator (Bill, Becky, and Amanda Sherman), the pedal-powered Skinner Box (Matthew Dockrey), the neatly countertop-integrated DrinkSys (Ryan Nevell), and El Espanol Borracho, by Barbot and Robot Wars co-producer Simone Davalos.