A More Permanent Bartendro Setup January 05 2015, 2 Comments

Over the last few years, Bartendro has remained a go to staple for parties of 10 or more people. But what about Bartendro for the humble home bar? Is it really practical to setup Bartendro for individual use? Well, that depends. We, like you, hate cleaning. So, we've been developing ways to have a more permanently loaded bot that doesn't require constant flushing...that is, until your friends require it at their parties. :)

We've been heading in that direction and recently created these slick bottle toppers that keep dust and fruit flies off your precious booze. As we continue experimenting and developing, we're coming up with even better solutions and hope to get your feedback on them.

If you've been using Bartendro for a while, you'll notice a few things. If an ingredient isn't loaded, the tubing dangles down to the table or surface that the bot is on. Unfortunately, this length is required to get to the bottom of the bottles while allowing a little bit of bottle shifting. You'll also notice that while restocking a bottle, there is a bit of inevitable dripping as you transfer the tubing from one bottle to the next. Finally, you'll notice that over time and prolonged soaking, tubing may begin to yellow, especially with highly tannic ingredients like cranberry juice or wine.

So, we set out to address some of those things and here's what we came up with.

We chose the ever abundant and ubiquitous glass mason jar as our star. We found that the wide-mouth style comes in a variety of sizes up to a half-gallon, and our favorite 24 oz size is straight-walled, making it super easy to clean. While mason jars have many accessories and lids, we couldn't quite find anything that fit our needs and was affordable, so we custom made our own.

We're still experimenting with 3D printing, laser cutting and potentially injection molding some of these lids. They have two holes, a narrow one for a stainless steel tube and a wide one for a funnel. The narrow hole has a precision diameter for allowing the stainless steel tube to easily pass through without letting much else through like bugs, dust or evaporation. The larger hole has a plug in it for 99% of the time until the booze that's in the jar needs to be topped off. The lids don't create a prefect seal, but that's good because the pump tubing would collapse if the pumps were trying to draw that kind of vacuum. 

Another key component of this setup is a special fitting that will connect the stainless steel tube with the soft tubing. As we experimented, we found that we were forced to use different diameter tubing which actually opened up the options for tubing materials quite substantially. We also found that the gray fitting below with a 1/4" stem can actually connect into one of the dispenser nuts quite nicely. 

We decided to test several new tubing chemistries. You can see the results in the image below. After 2 weeks of soaking in a glass of wine and a quick rinse, the following is what three different types of tubing looked like. The one on the bottom is what is currently shipped with bots and dispensers. We needed this tubing because it was thin-walled and allowed for drinks to be poured out of the spout with less splashing. Our liquid level sensors also needed this inner diameter. However, if we loosen some of those constraints and go with the narrower 1/8" ID tubing, we have much nicer chemistry options albeit for 5 times the cost.

So let's go back to our original question. Is it practical to have a Bartendro in your home bar? With the swanky setup above, we certainly think so! The only other thing to keep in mind is the shelf stability of the ingredients you like to use. Spirits and liqueurs are fine, but perishables like freshly squeezed juices need to be loaded up on demand. The mason jars can be labelled to give an elegant, or classic apothecary look, and they're clear unlike some bottles, so you know when you're running low. They can be easily removed with the straw and put into the fridge when done. The tubes won't dangle, or yellow, and there will be no drips even while restocking at a busy party (if you're careful, and not too inebriated). So that's the solution in a nutshell. Glass jars can be purchased from the local hardware store and the other materials can be purchased from online retailers. The goal in designing all of this was to keep the cost under $10 per ingredient, but it's closer to $15 with the expensive new tubing, but we think it's worth it. So what do you think, do you want to see a retrofitting kit in our store?

A Recap of Your 2014 Projects December 23 2014, 0 Comments

It's been a great year for us here at Party Robotics. We've attended many events with our Bartendro and won first place at the Cocktail Robotics Grand Challenge at the DNA lounge. But more importantly, we've enjoyed hearing your feedback and seeing the awesome projects you've made for business and for pleasure. We've attached some pictures and videos of projects we've heard back from this year. Check them out below. We love getting pics of your setups, so please do send them!

We've also been making some improvements within. We recently started using a better platform for turning our manuals into beautiful guides, and a few months back, Sparkfun started distributing our Bartendro Dispensers. We have many ideas going forward on how to improve our products and our documentation and we're looking forward to kicking off 2015 with some exiting new things. May you enjoy your holidays with your loved ones and robot made cocktails, and we'll see you next year!


A New Bottle Topper Design October 20 2014, 0 Comments

The old design

On a recent camping trip, we took Bartendro out to make drinks for our friends in the fine outdoors. Each bottle had a single tube draped down into its liquid with no bottle topper to keep the bugs out. A small swarm of bees got wind of the sweet scent and in no time, regular sized bees were negotiating themselves down the crowded bottle neck. Unfortunately, the exit seemed to be much more elusive than the entrance, and they found themselves drinking and swimming in what must be the most decadent way for a bee to go. Unfortunately, the camp-goers weren't quite as happy as the bees. After a few hours the bees were bobbing in the sweet stuff. Off-putting, I know, but this was inspiration to refine a component of Bartendro that needed some attention.

Before Bartendro made its debut, the first comments that people made were about the exposure of booze to the open air. We understood the concern. Even with the tubing hanging down into the bottle, there was still plenty of space for fruit flies (even bees) to find their way to the delightful nectar. Commercial environments, especially bars and restaurants take this very seriously and every night the bottles are capped with plastic wrap or some other type of closure. It's a real sanitation concern and we made sure that we would address it before shipping any of our Kickstarter orders.

Our solution was these plastic bottle toppers that could allow the input tube and level sensor tube to pass through the bottle top and not allow any fruit flies in. 

While effective, there were a couple of problems with this design. Sometimes, when catering a small get-together or out of sheer laziness, using the liquid sensor tubing wouldn't be desirable. We often run the bot without the second tube because we're usually standing next to the bot and monitoring it anyway, and we don't want to clean a second tube for every bottle at the end of an event. If we were to use the bottle toppers, we would still be left with a gaping hole for pests to get into. The second problem was more of a logistical and manufacturing one. These parts were quite difficult to source, expensive, and slow to modify.

We needed a better way to close up the bottles whether using one or two tubes. After much experimentation, here's what we came up with:

We found that it was nearly impossible to make a one-size-fits-all type of solution. There was simply too large of a range to make an elegant solution. We created a large spreadsheet and measured as many bottle openings as we could get our hands on. The data showed us that there were four distinct groupings of opening sizes so we decided to design for those. This covered everything from a narrow dessert wine to a wide-mouth cranberry juice bottle. There was a limitation in that some bottles could not accept two tubes to begin with, so we did not design for bottles that were that narrow.

The plugs are slit in a similar way as fountain drink covers, but instead of poking a straw through, you poke your tubing through. We tried many variations of slit length, number of slits and distance between both slit patterns before we reached the optimal design. The hole in the center is the biggest opening at 0.010" and about 0.002" when a tube is inserted. The average fruit fly body is about 0.030". The part is made of food-grade silicone, it is soft and flexible, and will allow the passage of the tubes in either direction hundreds of times without tearing. 

We will now be including these new caps with all new bot purchases. In the near term we will likely make them available for purchase individually, and they should range from $3-$5 depending on size.


Price Drop: Bartendro Dispensers August 11 2014, 0 Comments

Hey everyone, I hope you've been enjoying your summer with some tasty beverages. Things have been ebbing and flowing in Party Robotics land over the last couple of months. We ran out of several things some weeks back, but now we're stocked up on everything again, and the best news is that Bartendro Dispensers are now 10 bucks less! Did we change anything about them? Nope! As we've been refining our process, and understanding our costs better, we've decided that we would pass the savings on to you. It might not seem like much, but every little bit helps when you're trying to build a big bot.

For those in the Bay Area, we've also officially signed up for the Cocktail Robotics Grand Challenge, happening in about a month at the DNA Lounge in SF. Come root for your favorite robots. The event is on a Sunday from 5pm to Midnight and tickets cost $10 in advance.

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.
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!!