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A Couple of Great Events – Barbot and Drinco de Mayo

2012/05/13 in Events

It’s amazing sometimes how much can happen in a couple months. In March, we went to Barbot 2012 in San Francisco to mingle with like minded cocktail making technologists. It was great to see familiar faces and meet new ones. Bartendro’s aesthetic was spot on. It was a bold, shiny, well-lit piece of art. The bot performed admirably on Friday night dispensing 172 drinks, but we ran into some hardware/software issues that almost made the bot inoperable at the start of the Saturday run. We muscled through several issues and brought half of the pumps back to life for a usable 6 drinks. People were still impressed it could make that many, since most other bots were only doing 1 or 2 drinks. We were dismayed though because we had a selection of 30 drinks the night before. People were overall thrilled and welcoming of our robotic future, where drinks come with a button press. We got mentioned in a Make Blog about how we are “veering dangerously close to commercial viability.”Flickr Set of Barbot 2012

At the end of the event we stayed up late into the night rehashing all the things that could have gone better; a post-mortem analysis if you will. We agreed that upside down bottles were not the way to go. The upside down bottle concept carried over from our original desires to have a gravity-fed machine. The aesthetic is really cool. It seems like it would be a simple, no-fuss no-brainer; you can see the bottles and just swap them out when they run out. The problem arises when catering to larger crowds, not being able to refill the bottles as people are using the machine can cause quite a bit of downtime and this is a pretty big issue if this machine is to live in a commercial application. Also, the vent holes on the bottle caps (needed to not cause a vacuum) were prone to being leaky and messy. From looking around at the other bots this year, it seemed apparent that the winning combo is upright bottles and peristaltic pumps.

We made a long list of things to fundamentally change about our design. We would ditch the stainless steel skin and go with a simpler design. The pumps would also need a form of adjustability to reduce leakage and contamination of drinks. Over a couple of months I iterated over modification designs that would allow for adjustment with one knob. Finally, we had something worthwhile. I retrofitted the pump with new tubing to and re-routed it. Meanwhile, in software land, the UI received a face lift. Elements could now be added or removed at will depending on the type of party, things like drink size and taster buttons were made optional. Drinks could also be modified on the scales of alcohol strength and sweetness/tartness. We prepared and showed up at an event called Taco de Mayo, where our friend rents a taco truck that serves endless tacos. Naturally, our bot was transmorphed into a margarita bot. There was 6 different kinds of tequila that could be selected to go into your drink and even a game to check for sobriety if you selected the top-shelf stuff. Several other drinks could be made too including a Dirty Sanchez and White Oaxacan. 201 drink dispensed in all. Our best performance yet. We received great tips and ideas from our friends to pursue. We’re going to take our technical hats off for a month and put our business ones on to try to go make this available at your favorite restaurants. Cheers!

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