Henry Hu, 23, hates waiting in lines at coffee shops. The college dropout and recipient of the prestigious Thiel Fellowship throws back about five cups of coffee a day on average.
Thanks to his new invention, other coffee fiends in San Francisco can now get their fix in seconds.
Cafe X claims to be the first robot-powered café in the US. The kiosk takes customers’ orders from a number of tablets stationed nearby, and serves coffes, lattés, and cappuccinos made with beans from local roasters. It opens January 30 in the city’s Metreon shopping center.
The robot, which is encased in a round, plexiglass shell, isn’t all that intelligent. Hu says you can find six-axis, industrial robots like his on all sorts of assembly lines. It performs a pre-defined set of motions, such as moving a cup from under the milk dispenser to the syrup dispenser, or delivering a cup to the window where the customer is standing.
But it’s still incredibly fast. Cafe X is capable of preparing between 100 and 120 drinks per hour, depending on the complexity of the orders, according to Hu. Customers can choose the brand of beans and customise the amount of milk and flavours used.
I tried a latté made with hazelnut syrup and milk and was surprised to find it tasted good. It was rich and creamy, unlike coffee beverages dispensed from a vending machine.
Hu, who says he’s neither a coffee connoisseur or an experienced roboticist, got the idea for Cafe X while he was studying technology and entrepreneurship at Babson College. After tinkering with friends and Hong Kong-based programmers he found online, Hu sold his car and acquired funding from a friend’s family to get the business off the ground.
When Hu learned he was accepted into the Thiel Fellowship, which gives $100,000 to young people who drop out of college to pursue their entrepreneurial interests, in June 2016, he said he was “really surprised.” Hu said he hasn’t met the program’s founder, Peter Thiel, yet.
Hu is currently in talks with several San Francisco-based tech companies — “whose names you probably know,” his press agent says — to install Cafe X kiosks in their offices.
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