From coffee shop to tech start-up: the man who invented a barista robot to solve workforce problems


SINGAPORE: At one of Japan’s busiest train stations, a barista named Ella works alone, silently but quickly, brewing and serving coffee in a small, transparent kiosk.

After customers place their orders through a mobile app, Ella gets to work, first stretching her arm to retrieve a paper cup before turning to put it on top of a coffeemaker. In a few minutes, a hot cup of coffee is ready.

Ella then places the cup on a ‘dovecote’, where customers can pick up their drink after scanning a QR code. The whole process is contactless.

Ella is focused on filling orders as fast as she can. She takes no breaks, works around the clock, and can brew up to 200 cups of coffee in an hour.

Since construction began on December 8, Ella has served thousands of commuters at the busy Tokyo Station, the terminal for several train lines.

His “employer”, Keith Tan, is delighted. Based on his observations so far, Japanese consumers have easily turned to the Singapore barista and the kiosk’s automated, cashless ordering system.

“Customers love it,” Mr. Tan said, beaming as he spoke to CNA via Zoom from Tokyo.

The smooth deployment is the result of tireless work over three long years to perfect Ella, a robot barista.

“Back then it was very simple, but we went through all of that testing to reach what it is today, where we can let Ella operate on her own, with no one to help,” Mr. Tan, the founder of Singapore Tech, 41 years old. Crown Digital start-up.

More than a simple six-axis robotic arm, Ella runs on software connected to the Internet of Things that has its own mobile application, a payment gateway and an electronic wallet. An artificial intelligence-based vision system also monitors operations around the clock to detect anomalies such as spills, while deep learning and predictive analytics help meet supply chain needs. , such as restocking at the kiosk.

Besides Tokyo Station, Ella has also been deployed to a cafe in Yokohama Station. Here, she works alongside humans who handle food orders that go through her contactless point-of-sale system.

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