The future of food will likely look a lot different than most people imagine. From agriculture to cooking to table service, the entire food industry is changing thanks to technologies like robotics and artificial intelligence (AI). That change is on full display at Crown Coffee, a small coffee shop in downtown Singapore.
Inside, a robot powered by a variety of Intel solutions makes and serves the perfect cup of coffee every time. Named Ella after the wife of Crown Coffee’s owner Keith Tan, the robot is an impressive feat of engineering that could be a glimpse at what the future has in store.
In the food industry, finding enough workers is always a challenge. Tan notes that his company faced a “huge challenge of manpower” when first starting out. When he spotted a team of Intel Singapore employees eating lunch in his coffee shop, Tan pitched them a “completely wild idea.”
From there, Tan and Intel partnered to bring Ella to life. He says, “I have plenty of gratitude to Intel, as they helped me realize this idea. They listened to me, understood the problems I was trying to solve, and partnered with me to design and develop prototypes.”
Ella is a six-axis robot that utilizes a number of Intel components and software to run autonomously. Some highlights include the company’s Movidius vision processing unit (VPU), Intel’s OpenVINO toolkit, as well as both Xeon and Intel Core processors.
The robot barista takes orders through a mobile app, makes coffee and specialty drinks, notifies customers when their order is ready, and then serves it. The entire process happens autonomously. Better yet, Ella operates in a sealed chamber. This means that no humans touch the drinks until they are served to the customer.
In the age of COVID-19 and the unease that is sure to follow, that is a major benefit. However, Ella wasn’t designed strictly for the pandemic.
Instead, the robot barista makes serving coffees more efficient and economical for shop owners around the world every day.
Success with Every Cup
Ella makes drinks consistently to ensure that each cup tastes exactly the same. That’s just one of the robot’s advantages over a human barista.
Santhosh Viswanathan, an Intel Singapore employee, says, “I had an Americano, and it was amazing. Ella opens new possibilities to food retailers to enable contactless futuristic service and develop alternate revenue models with the data Ella gathers.”
Indeed, the team behind Ella is already looking for ways to expand outside of Crown Coffee. They currently plan to scale the robot to 40 more locations in Singapore before moving into Japan and, eventually, the rest of the world.
It’s not hard to see how Ella could be useful. The robot barista could make a splash not only in traditional coffee shops but also in places like crowded train stations or shopping malls. Since Ella has a very small footprint, it would be easy to add a futuristic coffee kiosk just about anywhere.
See Ella in action in the player below: