Congress Stiffs Robotic Bartenders
When the MIT Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Lab set about solving the problem of robots working cooperatively, they picked a real-world dilemma to help focus their efforts – using experience to advance their education (John Dewey would be proud) – they chose the simple problem of bartenders handing off drinks to waiters. The goal of the project wasn’t getting booze into the hands of people by robot, rather, it was to craft a cooperative robotic solution, and the alcohol was a perk (think robots delivering medical supplies in a battlefield).
Well, it didn’t take long for trees to swallow the forest, as Senator Jeff Flake heard about federal funding for the cooperative robot project and decided to intervene based on the “beerbot” tag – stating “[t]here are beerbots in the private sector already, so why would we devote resources to this?”
From the Senate floor, he placed the blame squarely at the feed of… you guessed it, graduate students:
The PRESIDING OFFICER (Mr. Sasse). The Senator from Arizona.
Mr. FLAKE. Mr. President, have you heard the one about the three robots that walk into a bar? No, you haven’t. It is not a joke but rather a project that has been paid for, in part, by the Department of Defense.
These robots, called beer bots–and you will see a depiction here– are programmed to serve cold beers to graduate students. Researchers say programming methods used for beer bots can be applied to other multi-robot systems in restaurants and bars. As you can see, the private sector has already developed robot bartenders, or robartenders. They have been mixing drinks at bars–and even on cruise ships–for years now.
Introducing an amendment to the funding bill that would kill money for robotic bartenders to the bill presented to the President last week:
“None of the amounts appropriated or otherwise made available by this Act may be obligated or expended for the development of a beerbot or other robot bartender.” [S.A. 3835]
But not to worry – those looking to experience the joy of a robotically exact drink can still get one by buying or renting their own robo-bartender from Makr Shakr, the original beerbot company that presented the prototype at the Google annual developer conference back in 2013. Since then, the robotic arm versions that Makr Shakr creates have been serving up drinks on Royal Caribbean cruise lines and at other installations.
For those worried about the future of the cooperative interaction (in this version btw, a robot bartender opened the beer and put it on trays for serving robots to deliver to waiting students) – just think “soda” – changing one small and incredibly cheap part of this project, is the easy and quick way to completely defeat the purpose of such an amendment to allow this project to pave the way to unemployment for the world’s bartenders.