An Optimus Prime that will make/require screwdrivers
If it looked like Pris from Blade Runner, we'd be more convinced.
Monsieur, the artificially intelligent bartender, can do almost anything a human bartender can do: he can take orders, mix and pour drinks, learn a customer’s tastes, and gauge if a patron has had too much to drink. He can even dole out hundreds of drinks in just 11 seconds each. But many human bartenders are not too concerned about losing their jobs to an alcohol-pouring android. Because one of the things Monsieur can’t do is have a human conversation.
Monsieur started as a Kickstarter project last fall, and now the Atlanta-based startup, headed by founder and engineer Barry Givens, will be delivering the first bartender robots to homes and businesses in May. The technology will be powered by an app, where patrons can choose a drink and order it "lightweight" or "boss," or even ask Monsieur for a recommendation.
Mayur Subbaro, mixologist and current beverage director at Louro in New York City's West Village, has had experience with robo-bartenders before at special events. He said that the robot bartender is largely seen as a novelty piece. And starting at $4,000 each, the Monsieur is no minor investment. When asked if New Yorkers should brace themselves for seeing artificial intelligence at their local watering holes, Subbaro said, "Don’t count on it."
"The irony of the whole robo-bartender thing is it’s not that hard to make drinks, and if I walk into a bar, I should be able to get a perfect Old Fashioned, no problem," said Subbaro. "But it is hard to be creative, and that’s what we do. I think this robot bartender will be a fun gimmick at parties."
What's Next? Life After Being a Brand Ambassador.
Bartending may be one of the world’s oldest professions, but the bartenders of today have a much different career trajectory than those of yesteryear.
As the cocktail and spirits revolution marches on, the industry has evolved to meet ever-growing demand for innovation. These days, the once-humble bartender is sought-after talent representing billion-dollar spirits brands, curating hotel and restaurant beverage programs and shaping what and how we all drink. And while the ability to craft a quality drink remains the essence of the career, there’s a lot more successful bartenders can do to move ahead in the game.
Enter the brand ambassador. These top-tier bartenders come from a variety of backgrounds, having worked in, owned or consulted on various bar projects. They often serve as the literal and figurative face of a spirits brand. It’s a highly coveted position. Perks of the job typically include a corporate credit card with a generous budget to spend on entertaining clients, media and other bartenders, all with the goal of increasing brand awareness.
“At the time we were bartenders, brand ambassadors were like rock stars. It seemed like the natural next step,” says Kyle Ford, a former brand ambassador for Cointreau. “Brand ambassadorship gave us an understanding of how the industry works outside of the bar.”
Ford’s partner in business and life, Rachel Ford, a former brand ambassador for Tanqueray, echoes the notion that a brand ambassadorship is a crucial turning point in a bartender’s career in which he or she bridges the gap between behind-the-stick work and corporate responsibilities. She has some advice for forward-thinking brand ambassadors who are anticipating what may come after.
“You’re given the gift of seeing how sales teams and agencies interact and how marketers work with sales people to push products out to accounts,” says Ford. “You will be successful in the long run if you pay attention to what people need and learn how to cater to each of these groups.”
But while there’s no denying the value of a brand ambassador role for anyone looking to better understand the production and business side of the industry, it’s certainly not the last stop for bartenders who want to move up in the spirits world.
“It definitely shouldn’t be the end-all,” says Chris Patino, who served as a brand ambassador in the early 2000s for what was then the Absolut Spirits Company. “The shelf life for a brand ambassador is two or three years. It’s great experience, but you’re married to one brand. You live and breathe one brand. At some point, you’re going to look back and say, ‘Wow, that was tough.’”
When Pernod Ricard acquired Absolut a few years later, it eliminated the brand ambassador role, and Patino found himself with a title he never expected to have: field marketing manager. It was a job he hated—his first corporate desk job and one that required flying weekly from his home in New Orleans to Dallas—but Patino put in his time, learned “a ton” and kept his eyes open for opportunities, eventually creating his own role as director of trade advocacy and brand education.
“That was a position that didn’t exist, and if it did, it was helmed by someone who had never bartended or actually worked with the product,” says Patino. He believes that it’s up to bartenders to show large brands what kind of roles belong in the hands of people who know how to make drinks.
Patino has since parlayed that extensive experience—from working on marketing campaigns to spearheading event activations to providing input on new products—to start his own trade-focused marketing agency called Simple Serve. And he has also come full-circle, with plans to open a bar in San Diego with fellow bartender Erick Castro.
The Ford duo have likewise launched their own consultancy firm, Ford Media Lab, which focuses on brand development and photography and produces a biannual magazine for Collectif 1806, entitled “1806 Magazine.”
Though consulting gigs are a natural next step for many brand ambassadors, those with more production-side chops can sometimes find an on-ramp into the distilling world.
While serving as global brand ambassador at Bols genever and brand ambassador for G’Vine gin, Philip Duff launched such initiatives as the Bols Bartending Academy, G’Vine Gin Connoisseur Program and the Bols Around the World trade engagement program. His massive success landed him in the top 10 for drink ambassador at the 2008 Tales of the Cocktail, the first of many recognitions he would receive from the awards organization, for which he has also since served as director of education.
But it was Duff’s experience working on Bols’ core product line that proved to be the crucial stepping stone for him to launch his own genever product, Old Duff, last year.
“Brand ambassadors interact with every single person important in the chain and often have a wide range of contacts,” says Duff, who’s producing Old Duff as a team of one. “P.R. agencies, national and international sales teams, distributors, design firms—having those kinds of contacts means you can create your brand in a fraction of the time, for a fraction of the cost and with many fewer people.”
Giuseppe Gallo, a vermouth expert and one-time brand ambassador for Martini & Rossi, also launched his own award-winning product, Italicus Rosolio di Bergamotto, last year. Taking home the prestigious Best New Spirit or Cocktail Ingredient award at the 2017 Tales of the Cocktail, Gallo was similarly a one-man show responsible for both the conception of the liquid and its distinctive green packaging. For young bartenders who’ve dreamed of one day producing the next great cocktail ingredient, Gallo says to take a step back and look at the big picture.
“Bartenders at the beginning of their career should learn to think beyond their network,” says Gallo. “It’s consumers who will make your brand successful in the end. Innovation takes courage, so never stop dreaming, and give your vision enough time without rushing it.”
With the advent of digitally oriented business models, the booze industry is subject to change, the same as any other. The future is full of possibility for bartenders entering the game now. And as the veterans who’ve come before have learned, you’re never just a bartender if you take the time to understand all the business that takes place beyond the bartop.
“The future is unwritten,” says Patino. “I think there’s only more to come.” Remember that if you want to be a brand ambassador, you have to live and breathe that brand. But make sure you’re always representing your own personal brand. It should be 51 percent you and 49 percent the brand you work for. You can’t give away your brand.”
Real-life robots that will make you think the future is nowMaggie Tillman, Contributing editor
(Pocket-lint) - If you're anything like us, you probably can't wait for the day you can go to the store and easily (and cheaply) buy a robot to clean your house, wait on you and do whatever you want.
We know that day is a long way off, but technology is getting better all the time. In fact, some high-tech companies have already developed some pretty impressive robots that make us feel like the future is here already. These robots aren't super-intelligent androids or anything - but hey, baby steps.
We've rounded up real-life robots you can check out right now, with the purpose of getting you excited for the robots of tomorrow.
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Robot bartenders are an amazing gimmick, and I defy anyone to tell me they wouldn't go to a bionic bar (it's like ordering dumplings from the touch screens at China Red). But a threat? It's actually possible that the novelty factor might attract a whole new audience who have never shown an interest in cocktails.
I think bartenders need to see the opportunities here rather than pulling out the flamethrowers too soon. First of all, these bot rivals have limitations. As soon as you throw variable ingredients into the equation, like fresh citrus - the core ingredient of whole categories of cocktails - you need a human on the job. Any drink that requires fresh juices needs to be tasted, and likely adjusted to balance the sweetness/tartness of lemons, limes, oranges and pineapples. Every. Single. Time. See that bartender taking a strawful of your $18 daiquiri? That's not skanky behaviour, that's quality control, and if they're not doing it, maybe go elsewhere.
I can actually see huge potential for robots to be integrated into traditional bar formats. The guys behind these gadgets are engineering geniuses, but their cocktail expertise is questionable. "Bartending, and the entire social drinking experience hasn't been innovated in centuries," boldly asserts Monsieur's co-founder Barry Given in the Kickstarter promo video . At this stage, the example cocktails Monsieur is promoting appear to lean towards your bog-standard fruity, flirty club heroes of the '80s and mixed drinks like Screwdriver (vodka and orange juice), Cape Cod (cranberry and orange juice) and Twin Peach (peach schnapps and cranberry juice). It's hardly a sell for anyone who actually, you know, likes cocktails.
But imagine if you put the crew from White Lyan in control of the recipes. The London bar has gained international fame in the last couple of years for eliminating all perishable ingredients from their cocktails (including citrus and ice) to gain complete control over their product. Really, any bar, or bartender, could write lists and market packages to home users and other bars globally, helping push their brand and exportable Australian spirits in the process. What if bartenders could earn a commission on every pour of their custom cocktail a la Spotify?
The Future Is Now
As COVID-19 created an entirely new future for manufacturers, strategically embracing technology has enabled them to thrive despite the challenges.
Keeping manufacturing operations on track to consistently crank out quality parts has never been an easy task. And, in many ways, it continues to increase in complexity as tolerances tighten and customer expectations intensify.
At the same time, the skills gap has steadily grown. With baby boomers nearing retirement, it has become clear manufacturing has lost its appeal. The writing is on the wall. Dramatic change is necessary to make manufacturing exciting again. The future is coming–and fast.
Of course, this was true before COVID-19. Understandably, no one could predict the pandemic or the impact it would ultimately have on manufacturers. Suddenly, manufacturers face a new, socially distanced normal with emerging technologies, automation and robotics taking on new meaning.
Simply put, that future is now.
Embracing a New Reality
Like it has for many manufacturers, the pandemic has intensified the impact of the labor shortage for Roscoe, Illinois-based manufacturer PBC Linear. “The biggest problem was finding new people and getting them up to speed fast enough and then keeping them," says Beau Wileman, a design engineer tasked with managing the factory of the future initiative at PBC Linear. "It’s inefficient and expensive to have a manager step away from whatever he was doing and train them."
PBC Linear design engineer Beau Wileman demonstrates how the company uses augmented reality to speed up training and improve customer support. (Credit: PBC Linear) This situation led Wileman to explore the feasibility of deploying augmented reality, specifically Taqtile, as a means of reducing training time and lessening the need for manager supervision during the process. "We have since refined the process where 70% of training occurs through the headset,” he says.
Having AR technology in place means people like Tim Lecrone, director of research, development, and customer outreach at PBC Linear, do not spend an entire day training new employees who may jump when a higher wage opportunity surfaces in the Chicago area. Instead, the new operators watch basic instructions in the templates created and stored in the toolbox. There's a job instruction for everything associated with a part cycle including load, unload, inspection and downloading a program.
The process of navigating the augmented reality space was relatively easy, explains Wileman. “There was admittedly more of a learning curve bringing the veteran coordinators and machinists into the mix,” he says. "It was maybe five days for the older generation versus one or two days for the younger generation."
Wileman's team initially tried creating templates for everything, and quickly discovered they were spreading the sessions too thin. “However, when we started focusing our energy on tackling specific areas of the shop (lathes, mills, grinders), we found that we had more uniform depth and flow,” he says.
PBC Linear has also seen a lot of job applicants displaced from the hospitality industry and wanting to try something new. “Previously, we would discount these people without machining experience, but these new tools create new opportunities,” says Lecrone. “Now we have a powerful tool where people can leverage a tablet or HoloLens to learn a task and earn that paycheck. If they like it, they can go to the next level by learning the next set of instructions.”
The technology’s advantages go beyond process, says Wileman. “It enables us to keep the attention of younger people during training and also adds some excitement about doing the job. It makes manufacturing a little sexier and engaging. It's kind of similar to a video game environment with instructions popping up right in front of you.”
AR technology has also enabled PBC Linear to create new levels of consistency across the operator base. "We’ve discovered everybody has their own little spin on how a machine center should operate or what qualifies as a good part, even with inspection procedures and documents in place,” says Lecrone. “When everyone watches the same Manifest instructions, it creates a good tool to identify when certain operators need to revisit steps 13-15 to get them back on the same page of how we want our parts machined and inspected.” PBC Linear Director of Research, Development and Customer Outreach Tim Lecrone (Credit: PBC Linear)
Of course, although AR has proven meaningful in addressing PBC Linear’s personnel issue, the potential for new use cases is sure to climb. Headset use has since expanded to include providing valuable information on the company's different product lines, robots and 3D printers. Wileman also foresees sees the technology playing an instrumental role in product support. "Being able to have customers use Manifest Connect and help them through any issues, even if we are 1,000 miles away, is a powerful application," he says. "We see a lot of scalability in how we approach this with our customers."
Embracing dedicated, easy-to-run work cells quickly surfaced as the future mode of operation for Rogers, Minnesota-based Metro Mold & Design. "Process stability leads to the operational simplicity,” says Ben Lampron, vice president of Metro’s consumer and industrial division. “We focus on engineering cells with the right equipment, the right trained technical staff and the automation to deliver."
"By being laser-focused on which projects we run in work cells, we can create environments where the chances of success are much higher,” he adds. “By eliminating the noise, we're able to produce in a more profitable way. The more we can pre-engineer the cell, the better. By the time we hand over a project, especially during COVID-19, we have to make sure that the operations team can take that product and run without worrying about any kinks in engineering.”
Strategic technology investments are a significant part of the work cells – everything from automatic-part moving, cobots with end-of-arm tooling and autonomous robots for material handling.
“Wherever we can automate handling or manufacturing, we do it,” Lampron says. “It's worth the investment and just kind of becomes the flywheel effect. For us, success is about ease of use, training and implementation across a portfolio of people. However, understanding people development is perhaps more important” workers must be able to understand and embrace the automation. “If something goes down on a Saturday afternoon, the operator or technician needs to be able to fix everything.”
Of course, volume is necessary for Metro’s approach to work effectively. “You have to have enough volume to justify the spend, as well as the time needed to build up the cell and do the engineering upfront work,” says Lampron. “We focus on long-run, high-volume kind of manufacturing. It's important to realize those efficiencies.”
Running consistently at nearly lights-out enables Metro Mold & Design to deliver high-quality, on-time parts and radically reduced costs.(Credit: Metro Mold & Design) A family of parts for a major construction equipment manufacturer is a prime example of what Metro usually runs within one of its work cells. One room in the facility has six dedicated injection molding machines constantly running parts. It also includes all of the material handling, engineering drawings, part specifications and training documents for each single unit of operation.
“It is kind of like an Easy Bake Oven at that point,” Lampron says. “You follow the instructions, run the parts, pack them up and ship them out. Separating the customer into its own dedicated room with all of the different operations eliminates noise and confusion.”
COVID-19 emphasized the significance of cross-training personnel–meaning those initially making tools now know how to hang molds, run presses, conduct inspections and prepare parts for delivery.
“Everybody who's within that cell environment knows how to do almost every job,” Lampron says. “It's really pays dividends and will continue in the future as we cross-train more folks in many different disciplines. If you have a dedicated work-cell environment, you can also be very specific about work instructions, because you know they are for just that cell. Everyone can easily follow them pretty quickly, even if it's outside of their normal job description.”
Metro Mold & Design’s work cells include high-speed automation, optimal tonnage injection molding machines, auxiliary equipment and cranes. (Credit: Metro Mold & Design) Work cells have become so successful at Metro that not only is everyone assigned to a cell capable of each key task they have rapidly become a de facto extension of the customer's facility. “Not just from a manufacturing standpoint, but also engineering development and customer care perspective,” says Lampron. “The value we add isn't just delivering plastic components it's understanding their business and supply chain enough that we can figure out ways to make their recipe for success better.”
According to Lampron, COVID-19 has probably contributed to this environment of openness. “You don't know who's going to be out on any particular day,” he says. “As a result, companies welcome help where they can find it. and we have been able to leverage our expertise in a deeper way than just making plastic parts.”
There will always be people problems in manufacturing. Even before the pandemic, finding enough talent (from operators to executive engineers) to run the shop was a constant struggle. Creating dedicated work cells is even more important when you cannot find talent you need to take the human being out of it as much as you can.
For iRobot, the Future Is Getting Closer
BEDFORD, Mass. — Ever since Rosey the Robot took care of “The Jetsons” in the early 1960s, the promise of robots making everyday life easier has been a bit of a tease.
Rosey, a metallic maid with a frilly apron, “kind of set expectations that robots were the future,” said Colin M. Angle, the chief executive of the iRobot Corporation. “Then, 50 years passed.”
Now Mr. Angle’s company is trying to do Rosey one better — with Ava, a 5-foot-4 assistant with an iPad or an Android tablet for a brain and Xbox motion sensors to help her get around. But no apron, so far.
Over the last decade, iRobot, based outside Boston, has emerged as one of the nation’s top robot makers. It has sold millions of disc-shaped Roomba vacuum cleaners, and its bomb disposal robots have protected soldiers in Iraq and Afghanistan. Now, with Ava, it is using video and computing advances to create robots that can do office work remotely and perhaps one day handle more of the household chores.
In late January, iRobot expanded a partnership with InTouch Health, a small company that enables doctors at computer screens to treat stroke victims and other patients from afar. And this week, Texas Instruments said it would supply iRobot with powerful new processors that could help the robots be more interactive and gradually lower their cost.
“We have a firm belief that the robotics market is on the cusp of exploding,” said Remi El-Ouazzane, vice president and general manager of the Texas Instruments unit that makes the processors.
Mr. Angle’s hopes for broadening the industry’s appeal are shared by other robot companies, which have struggled to expand beyond industrial and military uses, toys and other niche products.
Programming robots to mimic human behavior remains difficult. But the ability to use the tablets as simple touch-screen controllers is attracting more software developers, who are envisioning applications that could enhance videoconferencing, provide mobile security guards and sales clerks and help the elderly live longer in their homes.
And with their own innovations now at the center of the effort, the technology giants — Apple, Google, Microsoft and the semiconductor companies — are also pushing things along.
Mr. Angle, 44, who has been at the forefront of robotics since he was a student at M.I.T., said Ava “is one of the things in our pipeline that I am personally most excited about.” But he cautioned that the robot was still a prototype and would not report for any actual work duties before next year.
Mr. Angle estimates that the early versions of Ava will cost in the tens of thousands of dollars, high enough that the company is focusing first on medical applications with InTouch Health, based in Santa Barbara, Calif.
InTouch already has robots with video hookups in many smaller hospitals, and they have saved lives in emergencies when specialists could not get there in person. But the doctors have to drive and manipulate the robots with joysticks to see the patients.
Mr. Angle said that a tap on Ava’s tablet screen could dispatch it to the right room and free doctors from the more mundane controls. Its mapping system, based partly on Microsoft’s 3-D motion sensor for the Xbox, could enable the robot to hustle to the patient’s bedside without slamming into obstacles.
As time goes on, Mr. Angle says he thinks that businessmen could use the robots as proxies at meetings, speaking and watching wirelessly through Ava’s headgear and even guiding her into the hall for private chats. And if the sticker price eventually gets down to consumer levels, as he thinks it will, Ava could, with arms added, dispense pills to baby boomers or even fetch them cocktails.
Still, given how long other robotic breakthroughs have taken, Wall Street is not sure what to make of all this yet.
As sales of its vacuums and military robots grew, iRobot’s earnings shot up to $40 million last year from $756,000 in 2008, and its stock surged to $38 a share from $7. But with pressure mounting for budget cuts at the Pentagon, Mr. Angle told analysts last month that the company’s military sales could drop by as much as 20 percent this year, and the stock quickly tumbled to $25 to $26 a share.
The company had laid off 55 of the 657 employees it had last fall in anticipation of a slowdown in military sales in the United States, and the head of that division departed last month amid concerns that iRobot had not picked up enough military sales to foreign governments.
Frank Tobe, an independent analyst who publishes the Robot Report online, said that until Ava was equipped to pick up and handle objects, the robot would have limited uses. But he said the partnership with InTouch gave iRobot a much-needed toehold in health care. iRobot plans to invest $6 million in InTouch, and Mr. Tobe said by combining their technologies, the companies could produce devices at a much lower cost and attract more business.
IRobot also faces growing competition from robotics companies in Asia and Europe, many subsidized by governments that believe the innovations will help push their economies forward. But analysts say iRobot has a number of crucial patents. And the company has a strong track record in finding practical uses for robots and getting them to market.
Mr. Angle’s first robot, built in the late 1980s with Rodney Brooks, an M.I.T. professor, was Genghis, a buglike creature that ended up in the Smithsonian. Powered by microprocessors with only 156 bytes of memory, it could walk on six legs. It also showed that robots could be programmed to react to just a few basic rules.
That project piqued Mr. Angle’s interest in building simple, practical robots. He, Dr. Brooks and another M.I.T. graduate, Helen Greiner, started iRobot in 1991, he said, “to make robots that would touch people’s lives on a daily basis.”
But that goal proved harder than they expected, and a decade of trial and error followed. Standing by a display here at the company’s headquarters, Mr. Angle pointed to some of its early efforts, including a robotic doll for Hasbro called My Real Baby and little wooly blue and orange creatures that could scurry and hide.
But, he said, “from the very first moments of iRobot, whenever I would introduce myself to someone on an airplane or wherever, the response nearly 100 percent of the time was not ‘How are you?’ but ‘When are you going to clean my floors?’ They wanted Rosey from ‘The Jetsons.’ ”
“So very, very early on, we knew cleaning was a great application, if only we could figure out how to do it,” he added.
But it was not until 2002 that everything came together, with the introduction of the Roomba vacuum and an urgent military demand for robots that could check out dangerous caves in Afghanistan. Those 50- to 60-pound robots, called Packbots, also turned out to be critical in Iraq in disarming roadside bombs and acting as sentries at checkpoints.
Since then, sales of new versions of the Roomba, which cost $350 to $600 each, have taken off, especially overseas. The company has started selling robots for cleaning bathroom floors, called Scooba, for $280 to $500. It has also developed lightweight robots with video cameras that soldiers can toss into windows before storming a building. They include a 30-pound model and a tiny new five-pounder, called FirstLook, now being tested in Afghanistan. And even if their orders slow, top Pentagon officials remain committed to robots to save money and soldiers’ lives.
The company’s goal, Mr. Angle said, continues to be building robots that can operate more autonomously or provide “remote presence” — tech-speak for enabling people to be in two places at one time.
(Mr. Angle knows something of that language. After he appeared in 2008 as an M.I.T. professor in a film with Kevin Spacey called “21,” the director said he had gotten just what he wanted from Mr. Angle. “You know, you just can’t coach geek.”)
Mr. Angle said he, too, was looking forward to the day when robots like Ava would have arms and even keener sight.
“I like the idea that if you have a party, the robot can recognize faces, take drink orders, go back to the kitchen, load it up and then go back and find those people and deliver the drinks,” he said. “I think that would be awesome.”
Welcome to the Future: Robot Room Service Is Here
Have you ever been in your hotel room, ordered room service, and got caught in your towel when they showed up? Or felt a little bit weird that there’s a stranger in your room with you while you’re in your robe — even if he is serving you breakfast? That may soon be thing of the past.
The future is now — Silicon Valley area hotels are implementing robot room service, and soon they will be used in hotels across the country. Both the Crowne Plaza San Jose-Silicon Valley and the Aloft Hotels in Silicon Valley and Cupertino have android butlers who can travel as fast as humans, carry orders weighing less than 10 pounds, and even navigate elevators.
Now at the Crowne Plaza, when travelers order light room service or amenities from the concierge, they may be greeted at their doors by a sleek, silver, 3-foot-tall, 100-pound android called Dash. First Dash is loaded up with the ordered items, then he summons the elevator via Wi-Fi and calls the guest on the phone to say he’s arrived. When he’s done, Dash returns to the front desk and locks himself down in his charging station.
At Aloft Hotels in Silicon Valley and Cupertino, guests who order a small delivery will meet A.L.O. Botlr (short for “robot butler”), who wears a shrink-wrapped Aloft “uniform,” complete with a collar and a name tag. At the door, A.L.O. says “hello,” asks the guests to take their goods, asks how they’re enjoying their stays, and says goodbye. Want to tip him? A.L.O. even accepts tweets using the hashtag #meetbotlr as tips.
Meet A.L.O. Botlr. (Video: YouTube)
A.L.O. was first introduced in Cupertino last year and in Silicon Valley this year. And this month A.L.O. Botlr will be debuting at Aloft South Beach for a test run. But soon, Aloft Hotels will use the robot butler in all of its locations, according to an Aloft spokesperson.
“All of us at Savioke have seen the look of delight on those guests who receive a room delivery from a robot,” Steve Cousins, the CEO of Savioke the Google-backed company that created both robots. “We’ve also seen the front desk get busy at times, and expect Botlr will be especially helpful… freeing up human talent to interact with guests on a personal level.”
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Robotics: The future is now
"This competition is important because it says 'Do whatever you need to do to make it happen,'" said Kronschnabel, a math teacher at Irondale High School in New Brighton. "Instead, it says, 'Here's a box of motors and some aluminum parts and a footprint.' The students aren't used to that. They're used to the recipe, the formula, and they're not getting that."
As educators statewide push for better science and math education, the popularity of an international robotics competition has grown drastically among Minnesota high schools. The FIRST Robotics competition, where high school students build complicated robots to push a ball along and do other tasks, has 54 Minnesota teams this year, up from just two in 2006.
Area educators attribute the growth to dramatic fundraising by Minnesota technology companies desperate to encourage future engineers and a statewide push to improve science and technology education.
"It's a long-term investment," said Dr. Stephen Oesterle, senior vice president of medicine and technology for Medtronic, who pushed other companies to donate.
Later this month, more than 50 teams will meet for the first Minnesota regional at Williams Arena on the University of Minnesota campus.
"Even the football players and the popular kids at our school are like, 'Oh my gosh, how did you do this?'" said Callie Krummel, an Irondale junior. "Yeah, I built a robot in six weeks with the help of 10 other people. It's pretty darn cool."
On a February afternoon, the robotics team from Minneapolis' Patrick Henry High School -- the "Herobotics" -- toiled in a work room at the Bakken Museum, a science education museum named after one of Medtronic's founders, Earl Bakken. After a pizza break, the team started figuring out how to attach an arm to the robot to control a 7-pound, 40-inch diameter inflatable ball.
"I really liked the idea of having to build, program and drive the robot," junior Guillermo Andrade said. "I want to be a computer programmer."
Junior Ashley Hart laughed about early challenges the team faced: "The first time we ran the robot, it just went crazy. We thought we had it under control, but it just went berserk and ran into the wall."
The competition started in New Hampshire in 1992. Now, it includes more than 1,500 teams from around the world. Founded by entrepreneur Dean Kamen, the inventor of the Segway, FIRST stands for "For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology."
Teams that win their regional competitions get to go to the FIRST Championships in Atlanta's Georgia Dome.
In Minnesota, the program's quick growth is largely attributed to Minnesota technology companies that fund the teams, which need $6,000 each just to get in the door, as well as the efforts of Ken Rosen, an organizer who scoured the state for high school teams to compete.
Minnesota companies are providing more than $550,000 for teams statewide, which includes almost $100,000 from Medtronic and its foundation as well as $72,000 from Boston Scientific and $60,000 from the 3M Foundation.
"The issue is, of course, that there aren't enough graduates coming out of the U.S. colleges that are really interested in electrical and mechanical engineering," Oesterle said. "It starts in high school. When kids go to college, they have to have some sense that this is a really cool thing to do."
Statewide, the Minnesota Department of Education has also stepped up its funding of STEM classes -- or classes in science, technology, engineering and math. Over the 2006-07 and 2007-08 school years, the department has distributed a combined $4.4 million in grants to school districts for STEM programs.
Officials think that this focus might have made high school administrators more likely to approve teams at their schools.
"This is my 19th year in education, and I've never seen a program that has caused kids to become so fired up about something related to school," said Jim Lynch, a technology coordinator at Eagan High School who works with the school's robotics team, "Blue Twilight." "We have to push them out the door in the evening."
While the Eagan team toiled away one Sunday, Sen. Jim Carlson, DFL-Eagan, a mechanical engineer, stopped by to check things out. Carlson was so impressed that he stayed for two hours and is trying to arrange for the team and its robot -- the Al-uminator -- to visit the Senate Education Committee.
"I'm first an engineer," Carlson said. "And when I decided to go into politics, it's because I've been all over the world and seen how other countries are investing in their young people. We're falling way, way behind. . When I went away from there, I was just rejuvenated. I can't even tell you -- I was so emotional, because this is what we need."
What Do All The ‘Back To The Future Part II’ References In ‘Mr. Robot’ Mean?
Viewers who are currently confused by Mr. Robot need not feel alone. There are a lot of “What the hell?” moments in the series right now. Those of us who watch and rewatch every episode of the series in order to collect Easter eggs and other evidence deeply buried within the show are as confused as everyone else. The storylines aren’t lining up. There’s too many unanswered questions. The most recent episode only exacerbated the confusion. We don’t know if Elliot was asleep or awake. We don’t know if Tyrell was there or not. We don’t even know with absolute certainty if Angele and White Rose really met. It could have all been a lucid dream.
“Mind awake, body asleep. Mind awake, body asleep.”
What we do know is that Back to the Future Part II has inexplicably become intertwined with the series and some of us are beginning to wonder if the constant references to the movie foreshadow events of a more sci-fi nature. Something is definitely going on, but let’s back up a moment and catalogue a few of these Back to the Future references for context.
In Back to the Future Part II, Marty McFly and Doc Brown travel to October 2015.
That just happens to be around the same period in which Mr. Robot begins. Here’s Elliot’s phone from the pilot of the series:
Why does Elliot’s phone in the pilot suggest the date is October 2015, when the 5/9 hack takes place five months earlier? Something is amiss with the timeline.
We also know that Back to the Future Part II is, inexplicably, Elliot’s favorite movie. He and Angela have often watched it together.
Elliot and his father were also big fans of the movie. Here’s an old picture of them dressed as Marty and Doc for Halloween.
In last week’s episode, Angela mentioned the movie again while she and Elliot were on the subway. “We have to talk to each other on the subway. It’s a long way from getting high and watching Back to the Future Part II.
In this week’s episode, the Back to the Future references were all in the soundtrack. There were four songs in the episode specifically from the Back to the Future soundtrack: “Night Train,” while Angela was in the van “The Ballad of Davy Crockett,” also while Angela was in the van “Time Bomb Town,” when Elliot was in the taxi with Tyrell and “Earth Angel,” when Elliot was with Tyrell at the end of the episode.
Also recall that, after the 5/9 hack, Elliot somehow blacked out and woke up three days later. Where did those three days go?
Ordinarily, I might just think that Sam Esmail was being cute and dropping a lot of Back to the Future references for kicks. However, there are a few things that suggest to me that Back to the Future is more than just a movie reference it’s a plot point. When Angela goes to see her lawyer, for instance, there’s a blackout. The city has been experiencing blackouts, so it’s not unusual, except that when the electricity goes off and comes back on, the television newscast loops back about 60 seconds and repeats itself, suggesting that somehow time is being manipulated. Or that there’s another timeline where the newscast is 60 seconds behind.
Is this a more literal statement from White Rose than we might first assume?
Recall, too, White Rose’s obsessions with time and clocks.
“Have you ever wondered what the world would look like without the 5/9 hack?” White Rose asked Dom in this season’s fourth episode. “In fact, some believe there are alternate timelines playing out that very scenario. That the lives we are leading are the people that we have become.”
Bingo: Alternate timelines.
I don’t want to get too far afield here, because I’m not ready to believe that there is a sci-fi element at play here. But, alternate timelines certainly do go hand-in-hand with the dual identities of White Rose, of Elliot and Mr. Robot, of timelines where Tyrell is alive and timelines where he isn’t, of realities where Elliot is in prison and of realities where Elliot is living with his mother, and of the life that Dom almost had — where she accepted the proposal of her ex-boyfriend — and the life she has now as an FBI agent.
Back to the Future Part II was very much about alternate timelines. Marty and Doc traveled to the future — to October 2015 — and found Biff, who took an almanac, stole the time machine, and went back in time to create BiffCo, a company that invested in toxic waste reclamation and other heavy polluting industries. It’s hard not to see some parallels with E Corp, whose toxic chemicals killed Elliot and Angela’s parents. Is it such a stretch to believe — given the general confusion with timelines and identities in Mr. Robot — that there’s another timeline where the 5/9 hack never happened? Where Shayla and Tyrell are alive? Where Elliot is just a low-level vigilante hacker in October 2015 popping morphine pills?
Last season, when Sam Esmail put “Where is My Mind” on the soundtrack, he was clearly alluding to the Fight Club-like personalities of Elliot. Four songs from Back to the Future aren’t just happenstance. They mean something. If we want to know more about Phase 2, we need to listen.
Imagine your favorite bar in the near future. You walk in, take a seat, and a robot bartender scoots on over and parks itself in front of your stool. It looks a little like if Rosey from “The Jetsons” and Bender from “Futurama” had a baby, if robots could bang. Its base is slotted into a track in the floor and its arms are hella long, nearly dragging on the absolutely spotless, unspilled-upon ground.
Using facial recognition, it identifies you as a Regular™, and modulates its “voice” to the gender, accent, and tone you’ve selected in the bar’s app—“female,” “Midwestern,” and “surly” for me, please. Based on your purchase history, logged ratings, and taste preferences, it recommends a handful of beers currently on tap, along with a suggestion of which one you’re likely to enjoy most, according to its predictive algorithm. (It’s probably an IPA.)
You order verbally, like you would with a human bartender, though blinking twice at the appropriate area of its LED display would suffice. The robot’s right arm, the one with the fingerless, LEGO-like cupped hand, raises, grabs the proper glassware, and spins fancifully as it extends to place it on the bar. The left arm, the one with five Perlick faucets for fingers—each perfectly smooth and slightly tapered and obtusely bent as if poised to play a synthesizer in a minor key—actuates and fills your glass.
Just as the last drop falls, but even before it enters the glass, you feel a vibration in your pocket. The near-field-communication device embedded in the bartop has read the mobile payment information from your phone and opened a tab on your account, including a 10% discount for being a Regular™.
This might sound like something out of a science fiction movie, but all that technology already exists—just not yet pulled together in a way to create your Dynamic Robotically Optimized Interactive Drinking (D.R.O.I.D.) bar. That’s the thing about sci-fi: It has the habit of becoming nonfiction if given enough time.
As an example, the android-like robots from Fritz Lang’s 1927, sci-fi-pioneering “Metropolis” took over 73 years to find a real-life approximation in Honda’s ASIMO robohumanoid. In contrast, the video calling software in “2001: A Space Odyssey” took only 35 years to debut IRL with Skype. The military drones from “The Terminator” needed just 17 years to find their way into the limelight in America’s War on Terror. And the human/AI rapport portrayed in “Her” took less than a decade to appear in our everyday lives, thanks to Siri and AirPods.
Using that logic, it’s actually surprising our fully automated, artificially intelligent, smartbar+ doesn’t exist already. Given how far other industries have moved, it’s strange that bars and restaurants haven’t progressed more.
But there has still been meaningful change over the last several years. In the ways we interact. In the ways we order. In the ways we pay. And new habits are taking hold. Contactless payment and curbside pickup might have been used previously, but have become ubiquitous this year. And with a global pandemic wreaking havoc on the service industry, and upending the way we socialize, other habits that were forming are now stagnating. Habits that were ingrained are starting to erode. And habits that seemed inconceivable just a year ago are beginning to stake a claim to our future.
The question is, will any of these shifts in our behavior—in how we approach, consume, or gather around alcohol—lead to lasting change in the way bars and taprooms function? Or will our relationship to booze and the places we drink, and how those places operate, continue to look like it always has?
“The horrible and reassuring thing about history is that nothing ever changes,” laughs historian and author Christine Sismondo. “Not even a tiny little bit.” Sismondo literally wrote the book on bars in America, chronicling the role taprooms, taverns, saloons, and speakeasies have played in American life throughout our national, political, and societal growth.
She maintains that bars won’t look too different on the other side of the pandemic. “You can look back at this institution that has survived so wonderfully for so long, in almost exactly the same form,” she says. But it’s not business as usual for American bars. They’ve never faced a situation quite like the one they’re currently experiencing, battling social distancing and lower-occupancy requirements, earlier closing times and citywide curfews (and in some cases, temporary shutdowns), all in response to a full-blown public health crisis.
Not even the 1918 influenza pandemic could provide lessons for 21st-century bars. At that time, most areas of the country were dry, for one thing. By the time the flu struck the U.S., Prohibition had already been passed by Congress, and many municipal and state governments had banned the production and sale of alcohol. And by April 1920, when the flu was finally beaten back, the 18th Amendment had been ratified, ordering remaining bars closed and alcohol producers shuttered.
(Imagine facing a multi-year, globe-spanning, life-altering, indiscriminately murderous disease without the help of a little sauce to get you through. Eesh.)
But even after all that, and after 14 years of not existing in any kind of legal capacity, when bars finally re-emerged from the national embarrassment that was Prohibition, they looked much like they had in 1917. That’s despite the fact that, as Sismondo is quick to note, state and federal governments tried their damnedest to make bars different.
“They put all these new laws in place about how things could get served, and who could sell beer, and who could sell liquor,” she explains, “but they came back regardless. And that’s one of the reasons why I think the bars now will be okay.”
She has a point. By all indications, this current pandemic is expected to last less than half the time it took the Spanish flu to run its course. And in this case, instead of the government working to put them out of business, legislation is being drafted at the local, state, and federal levels to help breweries and bars survive. But even so, Sismondo shares a common sentiment: “Dive bars are the ones that I’m most worried about.”
Even before the pandemic, neighborhood dives were starting to disappear. But now that their dark, cramped, and well-worn nature runs counter to the proclivities of a nation in search of bright, open, hygienic spaces, their future is even more uncertain. And changing the nature of dives to be more compliant with safety recommendations changes them in fundamental ways that run counter to their very existence.
“The last place anyone should be is inside a small, enclosed, neighborhood bar getting hammered,” says Michelle Hill, “and I say that with that being one of my favorite things.” Hill has owned and operated the St. James Tavern—a bona fide dive—in Columbus, Ohio for 24 years.
Hill made the decision to close the St. James on March 14, one day before Ohio Governor Mike DeWine ordered bars and restaurants across the state shut to in-house patrons. She’s remained closed since. “It’s going to be damn near impossible for me to put safety measures in place,” Hill says. “And even if I did, I could probably have about 12 people in here safely.”
At that point, she wouldn’t be profitable. And worse, she’d be risking the health and safety of her own community. So she’s digging in, hunkering down, and planning to stay closed until she, and the country as a whole, can open up safely again. Even with positive vaccine news, she’s prepared to hold fast. “I’m just going to stay closed, as long as I don’t run out of PPP money,” she laments. “It could be next spring or summer, quite honestly. Even fall with the rate things are going.”
The fact of the matter is that change isn’t easy for businesses like hers. She’s considered putting in a small kitchen to rent out, or removing one of the pool tables to install a few tall booths, or expanding into her paltry outdoor space with a few stools. But there’s hardly any wiggle room, physically or philosophically.
“People come to a bar like mine to sit and talk to each other closely, to have conversations with their bartender, to play pool, and to get a little drunk. I could try to change things up and put in barriers, but that would lose the entire vibe and point of being in your neighborhood bar.”
While history may tell us that most things don’t change, current realities suggest some simply can’t. But that doesn’t mean everything will look identical when things come back to life.
“All the laws around alcohol were written during Prohibition,” says Jeff Libby, founder of Table Tap. “So they didn’t foresee people pouring beers from iPads and things.” He’s right about that. Even in their wildest dreams, the puritanical politicos of the early 20th century could have never conceived of a company like Libby’s.
Table Tap specializes in self-pour technology, which allows consumers to bypass the bartender and streamline their drinking experience by serving themselves. This happens, most commonly, via the WallTender, a system that consists of wall-mounted taps, each unlocked by an RFID card reader, and controlled via an iPad display. Think of it like an age-protected, ounce-monitored, interconnected Coca-Cola Freestyle machine for beer, but without the ability to mix and match.
Libby has long believed Table Tap’s solutions make its clients’ businesses more efficient, more profitable, and more enjoyable. But even he admits it can be difficult to overcome the novelty of it all and affect customer habits. “People were very close-minded to the idea in the beginning, everyone kind of knocked it and said it was just a fad, that it was kinda cheesy,” he explains. “It’s always been a challenge to get people to change their behavior.”
In a pandemic, however, when consumers are trending toward less interaction and more automation, self-pour technology is uniquely suited to grow. And there’s plenty of room for innovation. Libby notes that Table Tap is currently in development of a smartphone-based, entirely touchless tap system that uses QR codes instead of RFID cards, with a patent already filed.
But while systems like the WallTender may solve some problems, they create others. Even though the taps aren’t all grouped together, they’re still well within six feet of each other, meaning two people pouring at adjacent stations would not be socially distant. And instead of one or two bartenders being the only ones dispensing beer, each customer is, at present, required to pull the handle, exponentially increasing the amount of contact points and germs being swapped.
Without a crystal ball it’s difficult to discern if self-pour systems or other technological advancements will have a seismic and long-lasting impact on the beer industry, or if they’ll go the way of the Cascadian Dark Ale or Brut IPA and fizzle out after a few years of buzz.
Daniel Levine, a futurist, trends expert, and director of the Avant-Guide Institute, thinks there’s at least a marginal chance for the tech to endure. “One of the things the pandemic has been revealing is that a bunch of trends we didn’t expect to be on our doorstep so quickly, are all of a sudden right in front of us,” he explains. And one of those trends is self-service.
Self-service can take many forms, whether that’s ordering for yourself with a QR code menu, pouring your own via tech like the WallTender, or checking yourself out with a service like Arryved. Arryved’s business has really “thryved” (I’m so sorry) during the pandemic. From March through July, the company’s touchless transaction point of sale service grew from about 400 to 600 “craft beverage establishments”—breweries, distilleries, cideries, and the like—amounting to about $1.5 million in transactions per month.
While Levine sees the self-service trend continuing beyond the pandemic, he doesn’t see it as a universal change. The way he describes it is more of a tiered adoption, a bifurcation of technology and humanity. The lower tier—dives, neighborhood bars, and “bar” bars—likely won’t embrace new technologies, for a variety of reasons. Maybe the initial investment cost is too high. Maybe that kind of change wouldn’t resonate with clientele. Or maybe it doesn’t fit within the “concept” of the establishment.
The middle tier—sports bars, fast-casual restaurants, and “run-of-the-mill” taprooms—are much more likely to include technology in their businesses. These places are about volume, and they’ll entertain anything they can to increase that volume and decrease wait time and impediments to ordering.
Levine compares the mindset to fast food restaurants. “A lot of McDonald’s franchises, for example, are putting in touchscreens,” he says. “And they’re doing that because it will enable them to employ fewer people, and it’s faster and better for them. But this technology is not always better for the customer.”
Think about using the janky self-service screen that’s increasingly popular at airport bars and restaurants. At best, it’s frustratingly complex, requiring you to swipe through page after page of questionably categorized menu items like some schmo thumbing through the yellow pages, searching for anything that might taste decent but sufficiently numb you until the drink cart rolls out. At worst, it’s a completely unusable bricked iPad, supposedly refurbished after some college student atop a giant inflatable swan dropped it in a pool last spring break.
But Levine is quick to note that different types of consumers prefer different types of service. “It’s hard to say which comes first with trends, the chicken or the egg. They sort of grow up together, with the technology changing us, and us changing the technology.”
He draws the analogy of a grocery store. Older people generally check out with an actual human cashier because they don’t want to deal with technology and the hassle of doing it themselves. But younger shoppers prefer the self-checkout terminals because they don’t want to deal with people. Even though it takes them a lot longer since they suck at scanning items, use way too many bags, and definitely do not know the numerical keycode for the avocado or kale they’re buying. So there’s a generational component at play, as well.
Getting back to Levine’s tiered theory: That top tier—high-end cocktail bars, bars in fine-dining restaurants, and most craft breweries—will be unlikely to adopt any automated practices. “We’re going to see humans be more involved here, because interacting with humans is becoming a luxury. And you’re paying a premium for that interaction, for that service.”
He adds a final thought to really punctuate the exchange. “Outside that premium sphere, the robots are coming for our jobs, eventually, and it’s disingenuous to say otherwise. But it’s hard to get people to change their behavior. That’s maybe the hardest thing. When the pandemic is in our rearview mirror, I think a lot of the future is going to look a lot like the past did.”
So a futurist and a historian walk into a bar and both order from an actual human bartender. That’s it. That’s the joke.
When Jester King Brewery closed down in March, its employees had no idea when it was going to reopen, or, when it did, what their reality would look like. Because Jester King is a literal farmhouse brewery whose in-person experience always relied heavily on the communal nature of its space and its beer—and often generated festival-sized crowds—the idea of limiting human interaction and increasing social distancing was daunting.
“We knew our entire experience was going to be different,” founder and owner Jeff Stuffings says. “We went from weekend days where we’d see somewhere between 1,000 to 2,000 people coming through, and we had to shave that down quite substantially to about 300 people as a maximum at any one time.” To get there, Jester King transitioned to an online-only reservation system that allows customers to book time in two distinct sessions, one in the afternoon and one in the evening, with a hard reset and thorough sanitizing in between.
In a video posted to the brewery’s website announcing its reopening in May, Stuffings explains, “There was a sense of excitement to slowly begin to rebuild what this place had been leading up to the pandemic, and to do so responsibly by really embracing social distancing, embracing the outdoor nature of Jester King, and by embracing technology to rekindle community, but to do so safely and responsibly.”
The idea of using technology to rekindle community seems slightly contradictory given the fact that, you know, the robots are coming for all of us. But to hear Stuffings tell it, it makes perfect, logical sense. In fact, he’s come to see real value in a lot of the adjustments the company has made.
“The biggest knock on our experience was always the long lines,” he explains. “And granted, it would be feast or famine, but on the weekends we would get overrun. Now with the reservation system, our staff knows exactly what to expect. We’d like to have more people on site than we do now, because revenue is down as a result of fewer people. But going back to that huge, festival-like crowd is not something I think we’ll do.”
To make up for the lower on-premise revenue, Jester King is looking to increase sales of canned offerings of non-farmhouse beers like its IPA and Lager product lines, each introduced in late 2019. Additionally, it has seen a huge uptick in sales via home delivery services, which has helped to fill the void, at least somewhat. But Stuffings is committed to keeping the number of guests lower, long-term.
He acknowledges that some people might be upset by that, but he’s quick to point to the enhanced experience for both guests and staff. In addition to the online reservation system, Jester King has pivoted to a QR code and app-based ordering system to streamline its service, allowing customers to spend less time waiting away from their tables, and more time with their family and friends.
Those are the types of advancements likely to endure after the pandemic ends, and to become ingrained in the drinking experience long-term: things that benefit the customer and the business alike. For adjustments like online ordering—both on-premise and off—and curbside pickup, the toothpaste is out of the tube. There’s no getting it back in.
Stuffings sees big things for online ordering via delivery services in particular. “I’ve absolutely loved the rise of third-party delivery options that chip away at the three-tier system,” he says. “It’s not that I’m anti-distributor—distributors are essential to the beer business—but the rigidity of the three-tier system is unnecessary.”
Other breweries with a national footprint seem to agree. Businesses like Sierra Nevada and Bell’s and Deschutes have all incorporated home delivery services, specifically Drizly, prominently on their websites. That’s the type of convenience consumers won’t want to give up on the other side of this. And something that can help breweries make up for lost revenue, with larger margins found in bypassing the distributor tier.
But direct-to-consumer delivery laws are different in every state, allowing some brewers to handle fulfillment themselves, while others, like Jester King, need to rely on third-party services. Similarly, not every locale is as conducive to nearly year-round outdoor drinking as Austin, Texas is.
As such, brewers above the Mason-Dixon line are having to get creative with how they provide safe outdoor drinking conditions for patrons during the less temperate months. Among the many, Solemn Oath Brewery, outside Chicago, has introduced what it has dubbed the Community Dome Forest, a grid of private geodesic domes outside their taproom. (Don’t want to drink in our larger, moderately ventilated hall that might harbor deadly germs? Maybe you’d prefer one of our hermetically sealed galactic igloos that undergo a space-aged ionized air cleaning between intimate chug sessions?)
Others still are facing the harsh reality that, based on their circumstances, they may not be able to welcome guests back safely until the spring, or until a vaccine is widely available—whichever comes first.
As wide-ranging, predictive, and influential as science fiction has been in shaping the evolution of technology, it hasn’t really promised us much about the future of bars.
The Last Resort bar in “Total Recall,” The Snake Pit in “Blade Runner,” hell, even the Mos Eisley Cantina from “Star Wars”—arguably the most famous sci-fi bar in history—all paint a mild portrait of a futuristic bar-going experience. Sure, the patrons might be mutants or aliens, and the decor might be unstuck in time, or there might be some semblance of technology here and there—but the bar itself isn’t radically different than what we’ve been seeking out for hundreds of years.
In each instance, a free-thinking, non-robot being is standing behind an elevated bartop, doling out drinks to, and chatting with, paying customers. There’s music and dancing and no doubt debauchery, which are all things we’ve always sought in the bars we frequent. There aren’t even any innovations in how the booze is dispersed. Bottles and taps and glassware like we’ve always used still reign supreme in these advanced and informed visions of the future.
It's difficult to extrapolate trends into fantasy—accurately, if at all—in areas that are so historically and thoroughly averse to change. Think about what constituted state-of-the-art technology around the turn of the 20th century. Automobiles! Airplanes! THE RADIO! And look at how far we’ve advanced over the last 120 years. Now look at the way a saloon functioned pre-Prohibition. Look at the basic operating principles of a tavern in the 1300s. Go all the way back to the kapeleia in ancient Greece.
While things on the periphery have changed dramatically over millennia, and will continue to, the way humans obtain alcohol has advanced in baby steps by comparison. In these troubled times we find ourselves chattering constantly about “the new normal,” and resigning ourselves to the fact that “things will never be the same.” But there’s plenty of evidence to suggest they will.
At least in the ways that matter most. The ways that breed intimacy and familiarity and comfort. The ways that affect how we gather and celebrate and commiserate. The ways that have gotten us through the darkest of times and served as the bedrock of our societies.
And that’s great news, if, like me, you’re none too thrilled about ordering your beer from an artificially intelligent kegerator on wheels.