Meet The Barista Bot

A clover or smiley face etched in your coffee foam? This robot will put your portrait in your latte instead.

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]