A Year Ago Today... March 01 2014, 0 Comments

A year ago today, we introduced Bartendro to Kickstarter, and the World. Up until that point, Bartendro's prior incarnations had only been visible to our friends and family. A quaint side project that we had worked on for about 5 years became transformed overnight. Putting it into the public eye brought about a certain cachetor credibility to the project. The month of March was a roller coaster, we went from being elated to overwhelmed in mere moments, then switched back and forth. Going through the Kickstarter process was enlightening and quite fun. We learned that we were in new territory where the rules weren't quite written yet and it liberated us to be creative in how we went about solving our problems. Days were unconventional. In the process we visited dozens of maker spaces, learned about numerous hardware accelerators, and toured factories of all flavors. The people and suppliers we've met have encouraged us and supported us along the way and have restored our faith in American manufacturing, ingenuity and quality. We've learned about many new manufacturing techniques and learned what it really means to commit to making a product. It's a lot of hard work, but when we look back at what that year has produced, we are proud to stand by what we've put out there, and are motivated to build on the accumulated knowledge and momentum that we've gained. It's still a pleasure to hear the reactions of people that use our machines, and Bartendro will only be getting better over time. There are some changes that are coming up, including a move to the San Francisco Bay Area which we will talk about more in a future post. For now, we're excited to keep doing what we're doing. Thanks for following along.

We came, we conquered, we Kickstarted and this is what we learned... September 06 2013, 2 Comments

So, Kickstarter is over. How did it go? What's next? Would you do it again? What did you learn? These are some of the questions our backers, family and friends have been asking us over the last few months. Hopefully, this blog post will satisfy everyone’s curiosity and give everyone more insight into our process and a glimpse into Party Robotics’ future.

Going through the Kickstarter process

We began preparing for the Kickstarter campaign about a month before we launched. In retrospect, two or three months would have been better.

We started with more traditional marketing the week before launch by putting flyers up in TechShops, maker/hacker spaces and universities.

We talked to other Kickstarters, getting a feel for what to expect. Everyone we spoke with was excited to share their experiences.

We thought it was important to launch our Kickstarter with a bang and pushed the go button the same night Bartendro appeared at BarBot in San Francisco. Over the course of the Kickstarter we brought Bartendro to several other events and trade shows.

Right after launching, we contacted bloggers that had written about similar products and introduced them to Bartendro. The most traction came after bloggers with CNET, Yahoo and Endadget wrote posts about us a couple days into the campaign.

There was a large chunk of time spent answering emails and slightly tweaking the Kickstarter rewards, especially during the first week after launching.

After we funded it took several days to receive the funds. Kickstarter took 5%, Amazon 3.5%.

Out of 479 backers, 7 were dropped because Amazon couldn't process their payment.

People discovered our project a day or two or three after the campaign was over and wanted to back us. If we did another campaign we would plan ahead for this.

Make more extras than you think you'll need!

We made about 5% extras, but are now wishing we had made more like 25% to compensate for quality issues and late backers.

Don’t forget about taxes

We will be paying sales tax for all the backers in our state.  We should have made an estimate of how many would back us in California in order to include that cost in our budget.

In order to buy goods without paying tax we had to get a seller’s permit/resale certificate. We will pay ‘use tax’ for any goods that aren’t sold.

Design - Be explicit in drawings!!

The power supplies from China initially arrived with the wrong connector even though the part number was specified correctly. Be very careful when emailing foreign vendors, miscommunication can happen easily.

Several days were wasted because we forgot to specify the color 'black' on our silkscreen drawings.

We got  quotes from several vendors and used mfg.com to compare.

It’s important to finish designing all the parts as early as possible. Some design changes may affect other parts. Since we were making most of the parts ourselves, we were able to catch the issues and adapt. This would have been much harder if we had contracted the parts out.

We considered using stickers for branding/model numbers etc, but silkscreening came out better and looks very professional when done correctly. Laser engraving looks even better, but costs almost three times as much.

Vendors were slower than expected. Anticipate adding at least 20% more time to any date that you are promised for goods. Unexpected delays and shipping time are rarely incorporated into their time estimates.

Most international vendors required a wire transfer in their currency. Sometimes, a check could be written to them to avoid those expensive wire transfer fees. This can take a few extra days, but may be worth it.

The manuals took more time and effort than we expected. We had users test our manual by going through the instructions. No matter how simple we thought it was, some people still had no idea what we were talking about. We found the addition of pictures and diagrams to be much better than words alone.

Manufacturing

Using an unproven powder coating was risky. We chose the color after looking at a small paint chip at the powder coating shop. While the color covered the small sample pieces just fine, larger pieces showed the material underneath. The painters had to lay heavy coats to mask the problem. The coating also sometimes got into the threads of the hardware and we had to run a tap through the clogged holes.

We purchased a ton of plastic bins of various sizes which was key to making assembly and packaging run smoothly.

Friends were bribed to help with pizza and beer. Just had to make sure that all free labor was double checked for errors.

To improve quality and reduce errors, it's was a good idea to have the next person in line check the previous person’s work.

We had to account for scrapping poor quality parts, including allowing time to return and receive new parts.

Inspecting all parts as soon as they were received was a must! Just because the parts sitting on top look good, doesn't mean the rest do. If the first time you see a bad part is when you need it, it's too late!

When shipping, try and avoid getting in and out of the box more than once. Double checking things we already packed was time consuming.

When making hundreds or thousands of something, seconds count. Optimize early on is highly encouraged.

Machining parts was time consuming and expensive. In the future we will consider more injection molding.

Large minimum order quantities were hard to reach even with Kickstarter backers.

It is going to be alright.

From start to finish, the Kickstarter took a huge amount of time. Everyone working on the project had to devote the time and resources to making it work. We also made sure to have people we could poke for extra help when we were stuck.

Having patience and keeping a cool, calm head was a lifesaver. Fortunately, all our Kickstarter backers were patient and knew that the process was time consuming. We tried our best not to promise hard dates unless we felt that we could meet them. We updated everyone as often as we could, changing dates only when it was absolutely necessary. People would prefer to wait and get a quality product than quickly receive a poorly finished or buggy product.

Shipping

International shipping from vendors was very expensive. It was often more cost effective to use sea freight and wait three weeks for delivery.

Cutting and folding cardboard pieces by hand was a pain and didn’t look great. We did that for the kits until we partnered with the packaging department at our local university. They were able to prototype things quickly and cut all the inserts we needed on their machines.

While USPS was the least expensive, it was not the best choice for international orders. We discovered that delivery cannot be guaranteed and once it leaves the US since the shipment is no longer tracked. We had to resend products because they never got to their destination after nearly 2 months. DHL cost about 50% more on average, but was preferable .

We have shipped to 23 countries so far: Argentina, Australia, Belgium, Canada, Chile, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, India, Italy, Mexico, Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, Portugal, Russia, Singapore, Slovenia, South Africa, Sweden, Switzerland, United Kingdom.

Customs

Backers need to pay duties, customs and taxes depending on their country. This can sometimes up to 30% of the purchase cost. We had to include an invoice for every international shipment so that the proper fees could be assessed and customs could properly process the package. If an invoice isn’t included the package will likely be stuck in customs.

If we could do it over we would…

Give ourselves more time to properly bring up a product line instead of trying to do everything ourselves.

Get a bigger working space. Working in a small space meant we were constantly moving things around, boxing, unboxing, and doing things in several stages which made everything happen slower.

Think more about keeping the momentum going after Kickstarter rewards were delivered.

Have our website designed by a professional.

Now what?

For starters, a much needed vacation! Next week ALL of the Party Robotics staff will be ‘out of the office’ traveling internationally. While Erin and Rob go back to their day jobs afterwards, Garran and Pierre will have some other loose ends to tie up and will be back at the beginning of October. If you have any issues during the next few weeks, try posting a message on our forums or email Erin. We will do our best to respond to you as soon as we can, but it might take longer than it has in the past.

Sometime in October we will have a shopping cart on our site where you will be able to order replacement parts like tubing and other available items.

Also starting in October, we will begin experimenting and prototyping dispensing solutions for carbonated liquids.

We are opening up pre-orders for bots and hardware with a target delivery date of January 2014, possibly sooner.

We have been approached by several companies interested in partnering with us and are exploring those avenues.

We will continue to make improvements to the software and hardware, listening to the community for their feedback.

That's all for now. We will continue to keep you posted as we come up with cool new things! Thanks for joining us on this journey.


Pre-Orders and Other Updates June 09 2013, 2 Comments

The last few weeks have given me a new appreciation for the everyday products we purchase. When you buy something you never think about all the small details that went into making it ready to ship to consumers. Someone had to design the logo stickers, decide on what material to print them on, where they should be placed, and how big they should be. Someone designed the packaging that the product comes in. Should the box have tabs, should it include foam, packing peanuts, or air cushions? What about the user manual? Another person had to sit down and design that, ensuring that customers could pull their new product out of the box and get started right away. This is just a small sampling of all the things that go into a product launch. We have all been learning a ton about this process and are getting very close to shipping out our first orders!

We have received our first box of assembled dispenser boards and miniRouter boards and everything is working as intended. ShotBot and B3 faces have been powder coated. The shop has been redesigned for larger scale manufacturing and we have begun cutting the tubing. Almost all the components for our small kits, ShotBot, and B3 are in our hands.

[caption id="attachment_890" align="aligncenter" width="520"]B1 and B3 Powder Coating B1 and B3 back from powder coating.[/caption]

B7 and B15 fabrication is in the queue. Labels have been designed and ordered. We have designed packaging for our dispensers, ShotBot, and B3. We are also working on the user manuals, video guides, and website improvements.

While we tried very hard to get out the first orders in May, we have had some unexpected delays. Our power supplies have not arrived yet, but we are expecting them soon. We are also working on hammering out all the bugs in our code. We have enlisted the help of a few dispenser backers with extensive programming knowledge who have agreed to be our beta testers. With their feedback we can get your orders out to you sooner than working on it alone. It’s important to us to send out pumps, bots, and kits to you all with solid software. That means pushing delivery back a couple of weeks.

Last, we are excited to announce that pre-orders have begun! The first item that will be available for order will be our dispenser. You can pre-order a standard dispenser for $129 or a dispenser with liquid level sensor for $149. The dispenser is a peristaltic pump with encoder, machined to accept our open source electronics and comes with several feet of beverage tubing. You'll have to provide your own power supply, serial communication device, and a way to mount the pump. We will continue to keep you updated as more products become available for pre-order.


Sheet Metal Fabrication May 16 2013, 0 Comments

Working with sheet metal involves massive machines that work with an average of 30 tons of pressure. Not for the faint of heart. The main machines can sheer (cut along the length), punch (create holes and cutout shapes), and bend. There are other machines for inserting hardware, spot welding, notching and preparing the surface to be painted, plus many more. Check out the progress on Shotbot and Bartendro 3. Now that they're done being fabricated, they're off to get powder coated to look shiny and pretty. The color we've gone with is called Sparkle Silver. We think it'll look rather sexy. Work will begin soon on B7 and B15, and those will take a lot more time because the process is more complicated and labor intensive with several bends and welds each. One of the nice things about using a local shop is that I can show up whenever to watch our parts being made, and that translates into videos for you. Enjoy! IMG_4194 IMG_4195IMG_4191    

Post Kickstarter Updates April 04 2013, 2 Comments

We did it! On March 31st we watched as the Kickstarter clock counted down to zero. At 8pm we pressed the pour button on ShotBot and took a celebratory swig of whiskey. With all of your support we were able to exceed our Kickstarter goal by over $60k. We’ve been furiously working on finalizing the latest revisions to the electronics and placing materials orders. If everything goes smoothly, we anticipate the Bartendro kits to begin shipping at the end of May and full bots shortly thereafter.

We’ve begun collaborating with several other engineers to help us refine some of our components, making them more production ready and durable for users. Out of this collaboration came the design for our bottle tops which I’m pleased to share with you here for the first time!

Bottle Cap

Bottle Cap

Bottle Cap

Bottle Cap

Some of you have noticed that we opened up the forums last week. We’ve created forums for discussion on software, hardware, firmware, drinks, and general topics. The drinks forum is the newest addition, just added today. This is the place to share recipes and talk about database enhancements. We’re trying to figure out the best method to rate and share drinks and how to handle drinks that have the same ingredients with different names. We’ve discussed the possibility of searching by region, voting on most widely accepted name, having an alternative name section, etc. There are a lot of possibilities and we would love to hear your ideas! Please note that if you share drink recipes it’s not guaranteed to be added to the database. However, if we see something intriguing we might try it out on one of the prototype bots and report back to you :)

We’ve had quite a few emails since the Kickstarter ended asking about how to purchase a Bartendro. Well, we’re not quite there yet. Delivering to existing backers is our first priority. If you’d like to be the first to get any updates about pre-orders then you should join our new mailing list.

Last, we’d like to invite you to come get an in-person Bartendro demo. Pierre and I will be at the Stanford Cool Products Expo on April 10th, if you’d like to come check out the bots and say hi.

   

Drink Testing Gets You Drunk February 27 2013, 3 Comments

In preparation for BarBot this weekend we all sat down and decided what alcohol and mixers should be in each of the bots, Bartendro 15 and Bartendro 7. Once we figured out what each bot would hold we took a peek into the drink database to see what cocktails we would be able to serve. As it stood we were only going to be able to offer about 20 cocktail varieties. We had added several new liquors and mixers to the lineup and needed to find drinks which included them. Since I love doing research I volunteered to find us more drinks to add to the database. I set out on my drink finding mission only to discover fairly skimpy online resources.

While there are several websites out there that allow you to enter the contents of your bar and will then give you drink options, they weren’t overly useful. The databases were very limited and hard to use. I instead found myself looking at one ingredient at a time and skimming through hundreds of drink recipes searching for matching ingredients. Talk about time consuming! One of Party Robotics’ goals is to create a community of cocktail enthusiasts. Each time a person discovers or creates a new drink they can add it to our database. Before long we hope to have created a fantastic place where people around the world can easily try new cocktails. Entering new recipes is simple and they can be tweaked right on the spot in just a few clicks. After I found new recipes Rob and I took on the hardest work of all... testing the drinks! We have come up with some really tasty cocktails for BarBot this weekend and will be offering 52 different drinks! If you end backing our Kickstarter project and acquiring a Bartendro of your own you’ll be able to try some of these delicious concoctions at home. My personal favorites are the Gummy Bears and Buttermilk. NOM! Check out the BarBot drink list below and decide what you're going to try this weekend!

Bartendro UI

Bartendro 7
Bahama Mama - White Rum, Dark Rum, Pineapple Juice, Orange Juice, Grenadine Beach Bum - Dark Rum, Pineapple Juice
Pina Colada - White Rum, Pineapple Juice, Coconut Milk
Tequila Sunrise - Tequila, Orange Juice, Grenadine
Calypso Baby - White Rum, Pineapple Juice, Grenadine
Florida Sunshine - Tequila, Pineapple Juice, Orange Juice, Grenadine
Pain Killer - Dark Rum, Pineapple Juice, Orange Juice, Coconut Milk
Rum Screwdriver - White rum, Orange Juice
Saoco - White Rum, Coconut Milk
Tequlia Screwdriver - Tequila, Orange Juice 

Bartendro UI

Bartendro 15
Brown Cow - Kahlua, Milk 
Buttermilk - Butterscotch Schnapps, Milk 
Buttery Nipple - Butterscotch Schnapps, Baileys
Cosmopolitan - Vodka, Triple Sec, Simple Syrup, Lime Juice, Cranberry Juice
Gummy Bears - Midori, Triple Sec, Simple Syrup, Lime Juice, Cranberry Juice
Kamikaze - Vodka, Triple Sec, Lime Juice
Lemon Drop - Vodka, simple Syrup, Lemon Juice
Mudslide - Vodka, Kahlua, Baileys
Real Whiskey Sour - Whiskey, Simple Syrup, Lime Juice, Lemon Juice
Sour Apple Martini - Vodka, Sour Apple Pucker
Vodka Cranberry - Vodka, Cranberry Juice
Washington Apple - Whiskey, Sour Apple Pucker, Cranberry Juice
2nd Period - Kahlua, Baileys, Milk
Adam & Eve - Vodka, Sour Apple Pucker, Cranberry Juice
Amaretto Sour - Amaretto, Simple Syrup, Lemon Juice
Apple Jolly Rancher - Vodka, Sour Apple Pucker, Simple Syrup, Lime Juice, Lemon Juice
B-28 - Amaretto, Kahlua, Butterscotch Schnapps, Baileys
Baby Guinness - Kahlua, Baileys
Baileys & Amaretto - Amaretto, Baileys
Baileys Straight - Baileys
Big Red - Cinnamon Schnapps, Baileys
Black Russian - Vodka, Kahlua
Black Unicorn - Kahlua, Butterscotch Schnapps, Baileys
Broken Down Golf Cart - Vodka, Amaretto, Midori, Cranberry Juice
Butter Kahlua Bliss - Kahlua, Butterscotch Schnapps, Milk
Butterballs - Kahlua, Butterscotch Schnapps
Caramel Apple - Butterscotch Schnapps, Sour Apple Pucker
Carrot Cake - Kahlua, Cinnamon Schnapps, Baileys
Emerald Martini - Vodka, Midori, Triple Sec
Girl Scout Cookie - Kahlua, Baileys
Golden Apple - Cinnamon Schnapps,
Sour Apple Pucker Hot Scott - Kahlua, Cinnamon Schnapps
Low Carb Vodka Lemon - Vodka, Lemon Juice
Oatmeal Cookie - Kahlua, Cinnamon Schnapps, Butterscotch Schnapps, Baileys
Pure Ecstasy - Vodka, Kahlua, Baileys
Red Rover - Kahlua, Cinnamon Schnapps, Butterscotch Schnapps, Baileys
Screaming Orgasm - Vodka, Kahlua, Baileys
Toasted Almond - Amaretto, Kahlua, Milk
Vodka Gimlet - Vodka, Simple Syrup, Lime Juice
Vodka Lemon - Vodka, Triple Sec, Lemon Juice
Whiskey Lemonade - Whiskey, Simple Syrup, Lemon Juice


The Wonderful World of Drink Bots February 08 2013, 3 Comments

Ever since the first cocktail was poured people have been searching out ways to do it faster and with better accuracy. Millions of dollars are spent every year on the newest bartending gadget or gizmo. Then, when robot technology started to become more accessible people began tinkering with the idea of creating a robotic bartender. We’ve seen them in movies, but how close are we to actually having one at home to make us that perfect drink? Well, probably a lot closer than you think. Party Robotics has been working hard for the last five years to bring a simple, fun robot that dispenses delicious cocktails into the mainstream marketplace. However, we’re not the only ones out there creating bartending robots. Let’s take a look at what else is available in the world of drink bots.
RoboBar
In the commercial world you really only have few options. One is the RoboBar, manufactured by MotoMan. With a pricetag of $160,000 this behemoth of a bot is not exactly feasible for home bar enthusiasts. RoboBar is serious about giving people the robot bartender experience and comes equipped with a lifesize robot; dressed in a tux and featuring a male or female personality. This bot is not designed to assist bartenders, but replace them, touting that it can “work 24 hours a day, 7 days a week without breaks, vacations, holidays, or sick time (or hangovers).”
The Virtual Bartender
Another bot that is available to purchase right now is the Virtual Bartender from Digital Beverages. This is a bot for those with money to spend and the space to set it up. The Virtual Bartender weighs in at 350 pounds, is about the size of a large dishwasher and requires a drain, and hot/cold water line connections. Much like the RoboBar, The Virtual Bartender has a LCD touch screen and can deliver a wide range of drinks, boasting it can hold up to 32 different ingredients. Adding one of these bots to your home will set you back between $5,800 - 7,500. The InebriatorNext we get into the world of diy bots which are not available for purchase at this time. The first is The Inebriator. You may have heard of this guy as he gathered up a bit of publicity on the interwebz back in September of last year. The Inebriator is an Arduino powered cocktail machine created in the UK by Ian Cooper and Jake Osborne. The bot holds nine liquor bottles upside down on the upper level and stashes its mixers in a custom cooler down below. Any mixers need to be moved from their original bottles into plastic containers which have been plumbed with two pipes, one leading to a gas tank and the other to a valve. Drinks are ordered from a special controller box and a glass then moves under the bottles along a conveyer belt. The bot can dispense a drink in about 30 seconds, depending on how many ingredients it contains.
Another bot which is quite similar to The Inebriator is MELMACC. This cocktail dispensing machine was built by Oliver Höftberger, Robert Neuner, and Michael Mueller. The bot also utilizes the conveyer belt design, though does not have a gas tank or separate cooler box for mixers. Instead the mixers sit in their own special containers next to the alcohol. Drinks are also a bit slow to come from MELMACC, clocking in at about 40 seconds. There are several other fun little speciality bots out there which make appearances at events such as Roboexotica and BarBot. There is Layerbot which uses peristaltic pumps to create layered shots, Robomoji that crafts mojitos, and SoBEaR, the breathalyzer/booze dispensing teddy bear. As you can see there are lots of projects and attempts at delivering an amazing robot bartender to the masses. Our own creation, Bartendro, is going to be making its debut on Kickstarter soon and we’re hoping that it will meet all of your home bar needs. The newest models are lightweight and can easily be carried by one person, uses peristaltic pumps to give the most accurate drinks possible, delivers those drinks in less than 10 seconds, has an interactive user interface which can be run off your smartphone or tablet, is easy to clean, and most importantly makes delicious precision cocktails (or crazy custom juice creations). If you want to check it out in person we’re going to be at Robogames’ annual BarBot event in San Francisco on March 1st and 2nd. Come on down and let our bot get you drunk!!

Kickstarter Rewards November 07 2012, 7 Comments


So, we are starting to gear up for Kickstarter and have been pondering some reward options. So far we have stickers, t-shirts and etched glassware. What do you think? Are there better alternatives, or are these good rewards? We'll have at least a couple of different sizes of Bartendro on offer, but they will be in higher price brackets. Some rewards in the $50-$200 would be good. What would you like to see? Ideas welcomed in the comments.