Contactless coffee: Meet Portland’s new robotic barista

Local

In J Coffee is utilizing a robotic arm for coffee-making

PORTLAND, Ore. (KOIN) — It’s been said that necessity is the mother of invention — and a downtown Portland coffee shop is proving that old adage to be true. 

A local coffee shop soon hopes to be able to serve many coffee drinks without human hands ever being involved in the making of the coffee drink. It is not as fast as a person, the banter between the coffee maker and the customer isn’t as robust — but a robotic arm is flexing its muscle in the world of morning coffee. Soon at In J Coffee, it’ll be possible to order almost any coffee drink made entirely by a robot. 

It is a robotic arm barista — it gets coffee from the grinder, twists it into the espresso machine and while guided by cameras, gently grasps and places an eight-ounce cup to catch the dripping coffee. The invention is the brainchild of Joe Yang and several of his computer programming friends who saw the need for contactless coffee coming many weeks before the coronavirus came to America. 

“Customers still need coffee every day,” Joe Yang said. “So, we wanted something still working on that but just with no human contact.”

Yang owned a coffee shop in China before coming to Portland. He was a computer science major in college, bringing a perfect combination of skills to meet the demands of a world that increasingly calls for less human contact. 

While it’s amazing what the robotic barista can do, Yang says human baristas need not fear the robot — because there’s still a lot the arm cannot do.        

“The soul of the coffee shop is the barista’s creativity,” Yang said. “We have a lot of [options on the] specialty menu — the robot cannot do that, so the robot is for online orders only or something — it is contactless.”

Yang says the robotic arm could be ideal for internet orders of coffee drinks — left on a designated spot with a number and your name on it. The robotic arm’s programmers work late into the night to hone its abilities.

Because the coronavirus doesn’t seem to be going away soon — Yang wants to be up and running with robotic online coffee by the end of the summer. 

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