F&P Robotics introduces the barista of the future

Pascal Schlittler, Founder of investment platform MyCoffeeWorld, was attending a hospitality event in Switzerland when he decided to go for a drink. Expecting one or two bartenders to be struggling through the evening rush, Schlittler was surprised to instead discover Barney, a collaborative robotic bar solution with a tablet taking orders and a “cobot” mixing drinks. “It was fascinating. I’ve heard of and seen robotics used in hospitality before, but this was something different. Barney had a smooth leather coating and moved in a way that gave me the impression it goes beyond pure automation. There was an entertaining aspect to it,” Schlittler says. “We’ve all been in a situation where you’re by yourself at a bar and would like to make conversation, but the bartender is busy serving customers and you’re surrounded by strangers. Barney is a great icebreaker, and that’s exactly what it was doing. People would come up to the bar and talk to their neighbour about the robot.” With a background in coffee, Schlittler saw the potential this technology had in a café environment. He looked into the company behind Barney, F&P Robotics, and discovered mutual connections through the University of Zurich. He got in touch and learned the company had similar intentions. “We all like having a friendly bartender or waiter serve us, but the reality is you don’t often have much chance to talk to the barista. They’re usually busy with a queue of people forming, all waiting to place or collect their orders,” Schlittler says. “This is where F&P Robotics comes in. They have huge expertise behind them, not just in robotics and engineering, but neuroscience and psychology. This allows them to produce very personal robots that don’t just perform an assigned task. Barney actually creates an experience for the visitor to the venue.” Dr Hans Früh and his son Michael founded F&P Robotics in Zurich, Switzerland in 2014. Früh is a neuroscientist with an extensive background in artificial intelligence and collaborative robotics. F&P Robotics began with a focus on aged and healthcare, launching the human-friendly Lio mobile service, Guido guided mobilisation, and Massimo force-controlled massage robots. However, the company noticed a growing demand in the gastronomy field for robotics. “F&P Robotics is committed to really personal interactions with people which go far beyond the traditional collaborative robotic approach. It is about creating a source of entertainment, and engaging people emotionally with our machines,” Früh says. “From healthcare to gastronomy was an easy transition. The main function of our Lio robot is to make sure people drink, eat, take their medication, and maintain personal contact – all tasks that run parallel to hospitality.” Daniel Adamec, Founder and CEO of Pier99 Capital, became involved with F&P Robotics as an investor around 2015 and once the company turned further into gastronomy, became more directly involved in its operations. “The objective was to not create a vending machine. We wanted to make something entertaining as well as efficient,” Adamec says. Barney is not just a robotic arm. The system also includes an ice machine, cup and drink dispensers, user interface, LED lighting, and a display screen. Adamec says that such a complete bar with a cobot is not that expensive, and results in savings in the long run while it generates additional revenues. “If you build a new bar from scratch, you’re actually going to spend more money because there’s so much more uncertainty. There’s design and building processes and then you need to procure all the equipment. With Barney, our objective was to create a finished system that doesn’t need too much customisation or adaption to different environments,” he says. “Then, the system leads to higher revenue and traffic because people want to see, watch, and order from Barney. From an efficiency angle, it also reduces operating costs. Particularly in places like hotels that don’t want to have to staff a bar 24/7, you can save on staff, resources, and time spent rostering. Additionally, a precise robot knows exactly how much alcohol is served and spills almost nothing during operation.” Adamec says this would translate to adaptability in coffee service. “Just like Barney triggers the quantity of alcohol based on the input of the customer, the coffee version of Barney would enable the customer to select out of a variety of points to craft their perfect coffee,” he says. “This includes the blends used, sugar and milk quantity, and type of milk. The back office receives information on all items used in real-time.” Following a round of events and showcases, the first Barney bars will be installed later this year in Berlin, Germany, and Interlaken, Switzerland. Adamec adds that Barney doesn’t need to necessarily replace human workers. Barney can brew an espresso or latte while human workers run and collect glasses, welcome guests, and make conversation. “This is a much more valuable use of staff than manual labour,” he says. Schlittler says this presents the coffee industry an opportunity to reinvent how customers order and select their coffee. “If you take the common consumer, they don’t have in-depth knowledge about coffee. Often, I’ll go to a coffee shop and someone will be standing in front of the cashier, with five people waiting behind them, and not be sure what they want. They’re offered all these different single origins or ways to prepare the beverage, get stressed and can’t decide, then go with the house blend,” Schlittler says. “Instead, with a solution like Barney, you can have – at several locations – a phone app or tablet where the customer can take their time and flick through their options. If they can’t decide, they can talk with a waiter who guides them through the process.” On the other hand, with the rise of mobile pre-ordering, Schlittler says Barney has the potential to also speed up the ordering process. “People have really embraced mobile pre-ordering. You are travelling from one point to another, know there is a coffee shop on the way, and can order your coffee so it’s ready when you are,” Schlittler says. “It’s much easier to organise this with an algorithm and a machine to find the right time to prepare a coffee so when the customer enters the shop it’s made and ready to be drunk.” Before launching a coffee-specific model of Barney, Früh says F&P Robotics is taking its time to get the process right. “We see two pathways. We can either create a coffee add-on to the existing Barney, which wouldn’t be difficult, or we build an entirely new coffee model which would be a bit more complex. Whatever we do it should be in an entertaining way,” Früh says. “We just need to work with the right partner, ideally from the coffee machine market, to help bring it to life. We could realistically have a solution ready by the end of the year.” Schlittler says Barney and F&P Robotics have the potential to revolutionise how coffee chains operate. “We’re not trying to convince a coffee boutique owner to change the way they’re running their business, but this is a topic of interest for coffee shop chains, those who want to scale their business, and people who need to serve coffee quickly and efficiently,” Schlittler says. “When you look at the industry’s issues with staff costs, customer engagement, and differentiation, I believe F&P Robotics can really bring solutions to the industry that are tailor made.” MYCOFFEEWORLD.COM – is an initiative & investment vehicle around Pascal Schlittler. The mission is to power and grow the future of innovation and business networks in the coffee industry. For more information, visit Follow Global Coffee Report on LinkedIn, Facebook, and Twitter for up-to-date news and analysis of the global coffee industry.

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