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.
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.
Since beginning our Kickstarter campaign in March we have had the opportunity to take Bartendro to many events, big and small. At most events we haven’t been allowed to serve drinks, instead loading up the bots with colored waters and serving up mocktails. Even without the visceral experience of consuming a tasty beverage, people are generally quite ecstatic at the thought of having a Bartendro of their very own. On May 18-19, we got to take Bartendro to one of our favorite events of the year, Maker Faire.
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All set up and ready for the crowds[/caption]
Rob and Pierre attended the first Maker Faire back in 2006 with a mere 20,000 other participants. The Faire has grown in leaps and bounds since then with over 100,000 people now attending. Pierre and I joined the other makers in setting up our booth in the expo hall on Friday night, soaking up the spirit of innovation all around. If you’ve never been to a Maker Faire I highly encourage you to find one in your area or come out to the big one in the Bay Area next year, you won’t be disappointed. Intelligent conversations abounded from makers based around the world, booths covering every kind of project you could fathom filled every nook and cranny of the San Mateo County Event Center, there was an electricity in the air and it smelled of innovation.
The next morning we showed up bright eyed and bushy tailed, ready to finish setting up. We brought out Bartendro 15, ShotBot, and Water-to-Wine, which was featured in a recent issue of MAKE Magazine. Soon the gates were open and people began flooding in. We poured hundreds of mocktails for thirsty onlookers, explaining all the ins and outs of creating Bartendro. Time and time again people expressed their love for our cocktail dispensing bot. It was a blast showing Bartendro to so many makers!
Unlike several other events we’ve attended we were fortunate to have help at the booth this go round, meaning we actually got to go experience the Faire, talk to other makers, and see their fantastic projects. My favorite was Tapigami, a giant city created entirely of tape by Danny Scheible. The city has taken Danny seven years and over 10,000 hours to create. We got to meet Danny, whose fingers never stopped moving and left us adorned with some of his taped creations. Pierre got a kick out of the Latte Art bot set up next to us which he had print out the Party Robotics logo on a latte.
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Overall, Bartendro was very well received. We did several interviews, being deemed "The most important invention in the history of time" by Anthony at DNews. Bartendro also earned its first ribbon, named MAKE Magazine’s Editor’s Choice. We’re already looking forward to next year!
Water to Wine, our little pet project from a few years ago was just featured in Make Magazine today
! This article is the first in what will hopefully be a number of articles on how to make drink bots.
Thanks Make magazine -- the article looks great!
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!
Yesterday, Lauren Blomberg and Brian Matis came over to drink wine and help me with a photo shoot for Make magazine. Brian had taken dozens of shots in August '11 of the broken down components and assembly procedure from start to finish. The shots were well lit and well composed. Fancy white photo umbrellas go a long way apparently, when it comes to taking good shots.
The editor at Make recently started working on the article so it can go into their next issue, I believe volume 30. He found that he was missing some action shots though, with wine actually coming out of the machine. When we disassembled the machine for the August shoot, connectors, tubing and wires were cut and it sat that way for a while. Needing to take the action shots was good motivation to put it all back together. I used some new food grade tubing from the local beer brewing supply and put it all back together.
We took dozens of shots in the kitchen while spilling water and wine now and again as we tried to work air out of the lines. After about half an hour of fussing, everything was primed and ready. That's when the silliness began. As we drank more and more wine, we began to become more intimate with the machine
. Finally, Lauren thought it would be a good idea to put her mouth up directly to the outlet and consume that miraculous goodness. It was priceless.