San Francisco’s Cafe X is just your typical coffee shop where people can get their daily espresso fix before heading into work. Oh yeah, but did we mention the baristas are robots? Let’s see how it all works...
At Cafe X, customers order at a kiosk or through an app, and then the robots work their magic by moving the cups into the appropriate areas depending on what was ordered. Customers then receive an approximate wait time. Bonus: the shop even uses local coffee brands.
The robot baristas prepare the beans to order, and once the drink is ready, customers enter a code and the robot lowers the drink onto an elevator to hand off to the customer. It’s certainly a good option for people on the go who don’t want to interact with anyone!
The roasters who provide the beans for Cafe X can customize their beans and milk for the drinks. They program the espresso machines for “certain grinds, tamping pressure and extraction time.” It’s pretty neat how all of this stuff can be automated!
Unfortunately there isn’t much diversity in what you can order at Cafe X yet...it’s exclusively espresso drinks. Although it's a good option for working people who just need their caffeine fix in the mornings.
Cafe X is so convenient, it’s almost scary. Aside from the easy ordering app, all transactions are completely cashless. The coffee is also incredibly cheap — a flat white costs just $2.95 at Cafe X, compared with the $3.75 at Starbucks. And on top of that, there’s no need to tip since all of the work is done by robots.
Looks like Cafe X might be putting Howard Schultz out of a job pretty soon!
The concept came to Hu while he was waiting in line at a coffee shop. He wanted to create an experience where people don’t have to wait in impossibly long lines just to get their morning coffee. Additionally, he noted that “baristas do repetitive work and produce inconsistent results ...so why not automate coffee service?”
Clearly, people have faith in Hu’s work. Last year he was the recipient of $100,000 through the Thiel Fellowship, which awards promising college dropouts who want to start their own businesses. He’s also raised $5 million in venture capital to open new Cafe X locations.
San Francisco also has Eatsa, a restaurant downtown that automates serving and cashiering. Automated service is clearly a hot new trend, and it’s not difficult to see why in a town full of techies. Cafe X can grind out a whopping 120 cups of coffee per hour, making it extremely efficient.
With robots entering the workforce of low-skill jobs, where does that leave the human workers? Hu ensures that the plan “is not to replace as many baristas as possible with as many robots as possible.” He says that there will always be staff on hand to troubleshoot problems that arise or answer customers’ questions. Technicians are currently still required in order to regularly clean and restock the coffee machines.
Are robots the future of customer service? The answer is likely "yes" but it is also understandable that this may cause some outrage among people who have traditionally held service-industry jobs as their main source of income.
Robots may be able to automate the coffee-ordering process, but can they make cool latte art or ask you how your day is going? Yeah, that’s what we thought.