AI Robot Enforces Social Distancing At S. Korean Coffee Shop

A smart factory in South Korea has developed an artificial intelligence (AI) solution to help people stay socially distanced and keep the coronavirus contained as the country reopens.

A cafe in Daejeon, South Korea is using a robot barista to serve people lattes and make it easier for consumers to stay the recommended six feet apart, according to a report in Reuters on Monday (May 25).

The robot was developed in collaboration with smart factory Vision Semicon and a state-run science institute, according to Lee Dong-bae, director of research at Vision Semicon.

“Our system needs no input from people from order to delivery, and tables were sparsely arranged to ensure smooth movements of the robots, which fits well with the current ‘untact’ and distancing campaign,” he said.

The robot can make 60 different types of coffee and serves orders to consumers at their tables. It also senses the clearest routes in the shop for social distancing and communicates that information to other devices.

Just one human works at the cafe to oversee operations and handle cleaning tasks.

The team from the factory and institute is estimating that they will distribute robots to a minimum of 30 cafes in 2020.

South Korea had over 11,000 cases of COVID-19 and a death toll of 267. Now the country, like many others affected worldwide, is starting to reopen while making safety a priority.

“Robots are fun and it was easy because you don’t have to pick up your order,” student Lee Chae-mi, 23, told Reuters. “But I’m also a bit of worried about the job market, as many of my friends are doing part-time jobs at cafes and these robots would replace humans.”

Robotics adoption has been met with slow adoption and low enthusiasm in the U.S. by both consumers and businesses. That is now changing, as robots are being eyed as possible frontline medical responders.