Business / Tech

At Japan Robot Week, mechanical barista treats visitors to coffee

by Kazuaki Nagata

Staff Writer

If people visit Kawada Industries Inc.’s booth at the Japan Robot Week exhibition, the firm will serve them a cup of coffee — not from a human barista, but from a robot.

Called Nextage, the company describes it as a “next-generation industrial robot.” It debuted in 2011 and has already seen action at manufacturing firms, assembling electronic components.

Industrial robots including Nextage have already proven their usefulness at manufacturing plants. But Kawada Industries, a Tokyo-based robot maker, wants to show they can be useful outside as well, a company spokeswoman said at the event, which kicked off Wednesday at Tokyo Big Sight.

So the firm decided to program Nextage to demonstrate it has the ability to serve coffee.

The robot, which appeared to be around 170 cm tall, had a large flat head with two cameras for eyes, wore a brown apron and seemed to know what it was doing.

Visitors used a tablet computer to choose the flavors they would like and whether they wanted milk and sugar. Once the order was given, the robot skillfully picked up a single-serving coffee capsule and put it into a coffee machine using its two-fingered hands.

Next, it got a tray and placed a muddler, sugar and milk on it. When the coffee was ready, it grabbed a cup and put it on a tray.

The firm said the robot can recognize the objects using its cameras and location information. Each of its arms was also equipped with a camera to help see things around its hands.

At some points in process, it had to get help from humans, such as to adjust the angle of the tray.

While the coffee-serving machine was only used for the demonstration at Japan Robot Week and the firm has no plans to sell it commercially, the spokeswoman said Kawada hopes to inspire visitors to think about how robots can be used in everyday situations.

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