This Three-Armed Robot Can Shake It Like a Bartender

The Makr Shakr, designed with help from MIT, uses a phone app to create crowd-sourced drinks for customers.

The latest creation coming from the brains of developers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology could potentially leave a lot of bartenders out of a job—and it wouldn’t even require a tip.

On Wednesday, May 15, thanks to a partnership between Coca-Cola, MIT, and Bacardi liquors, members of MIT’s SENSEable City Laboratory debuted the Makr Shakr, a set of robotic arms that can create almost endless mixed drink combinations based on input and orders coming from peoples’ smartphones.

The Makr Shakr was unveiled at Google’s I/O Afterhours party in San Francisco, a year after the technology giant asked the inventors to come up with a creative concept for the event.

Boston magazine reached out to Professor Carlo Ratti, director of the MIT SENSEable City Laboratory and founding partner of the design practice Carlo Ratti Associati in Italy. Ratti was also one of the minds behind the multi-armed robot’s drink-creating technology, and he took some time to answer a few of our questions:

So how many people from MIT helped work on this bartending device?

Different people in different stages—a total of five [from MIT]— but with a team of more than 50 [from both] the U.S. and Europe.

How long have they been working on the Makr Shakr?

The idea started being implemented at the beginning of the year when Google invited us to present something to explore the idea of the third industrial revolution and participatory design.

How does it work, exactly?

To use Makr Shakr, users will first download an app onto their handheld devices, allowing them to create both alcoholic and non-alcoholic drink combinations. The cocktail creation will then be assembled by three robotic arms, whose movements—shown on a large display positioned behind the bar—mimic the actions of a bartender, from the shaking of a martini to the thin slicing of a lemon garnish.

How many different types of drinks can it make?

An almost an infinite number of combinations, close to a googol or 10 power 100. The Coca-Cola Freestyle dispenser offers more than 100 drink choices alone.

Does this have the potential to replace bar tenders in the future?

This is not the goal of the project—it is more a research platform aimed at the third industrial revolution, where anyone can design and produce, as well as an installation meant to provoke and question our relationship with technology. More specifically within this context, we’re experimenting with the idea of social co-creation and consumption: today’s technology empowers anyone to participate in the design process, but in an environment where everyone can create anything, are there new opportunities for what influences and shapes culture?

Any risk of malfunction mixing electronics with beverages and liquids?

No, just as in a standard soft drink dispenser things are carefully designed so this doesn’t happen.

What has been the feedback based on the project?

It allows everyone to feel like a bartender and make drinks for [themselves] and [their] friends. There have been a lot of people who have enjoyed playing with it for a long time. The response at Google I/O After Hours was super—it was definitely one of the stars, but then, isn’t the bar always the most popular place to be?

Are there any businesses or bars that are going to buy this, or have immediate plans to use it?

We have received many expressions of interest, but no plans have been made yet… I think the guys will have to recover after the hard work that has gone into getting things ready for Google I/O.

Photo via Ken Deegan from Pentagram.

Photo via Ken Deegan from Pentagram.