A small New York design firm specializing in kinetic furniture has unveiled a prototype robot which etches portraits and logos in latte foam. The Barista Bot's robotic arm is a coffee foam artiste, and while the technology is still first generation... it's going to change generations of weddings, bar mitzvahs, sweet sixteens, and corporate events. A logo in your latte? A snapshot in your cappuccino? It's all within the realm of technology now.
The Barista Bot was unveiled as a proof of concept for General Electric at this year's SXSW; party attendees at one event featuring personalities like Tumblr's David Karp and MakerBot's Bre Pettis lined up to have their portraits etched into a cup of coffee.
Barista Bot is a partnership between RockPaperRobot, designers Hypersonic E&D and coders Jamie Zigelbaum and Kyle McDonald. While a real-life, flesh-and-blood barista pours an exacting latte at specifications designed for the Barista Bot's etcher, a customer's picture is taken on a webcam. The computer then transforms the cam's bitmapped image into a line drawing. The line drawing is then sent to an improvised 3-D printer which etches it into a latte. The Barista Bot consists of a medical syringe pump attached to a 3-D printer by a robotic arm.
In person, the Barista Bot shows flaws and isn't ready for even part-time work yet. It's also insanely fascinating and teases at technology that'll likely be commonplace in several years. When I had my portrait etched by the Bot several months ago, my features did not really show up--only the general shape of my face did. The etching process also took several minutes and was contingent on a barista scraping and sculpting my latte foam in the first place to guarantee the Barista Bot's etcher worked. But despite the challenges, the robot prototype actually worked--and that's the important thing.
Real-life latte artists such as New York's Mike Breach can make amazingly intricate portraits in coffee foam, and American (and global) coffee shops are full of baristas who can etch a quick clover, smiley face, or geometric logo into the top of a coffee. With that said, manually etching logos into latte foam at events is a time-consuming and expensive proposition--and not something that can be done nonstop. With machines, it's possible... and Barista Bot is demonstrating a technology that's coming to a nearby banquet hall sooner than you would expect.
[Images: GE Brilliant Brew and RockPaperRobot]