Your stereotypical bartender is at least 50% therapist. They might not make your favorite drink the same way every time, but they’ll listen to you grumble about your day while providing a concoction to alleviate some of the pain.
With that in mind, the Makr Shakr–a robotic bartender by MIT Senseable City Lab, Kuka, Pentagram and SuperUber–might seem like a bit of a paradox. Sure, it stores a full googol (that’s 10 to the 100th power) of drink combinations that it can produce on a whim. But its creators are more interested in its ability to connect humans drinking at a bar rather than replacing those behind it.
Taking orders via connected app, users enter a queue without elbowing their way to the counter (meaning they can focus on conversation). Their drinks can be wholly original creations, with choices between ingredients like spirits, liquors, juices and garnishes, along with options for actual preparation, like shaking vs stirring. Meanwhile, an animated infographic displays whose drink is up next (along with what’s in it). And as users select proportions for their own drinks, these strange brews enter a collective pool for others to riff upon.
“The main idea was to create a robotic bar, but not from a technological point of view. The most interesting part of this project is the social experiment that has been created through the use of technology,” explains SuperUber’s Lucas Werthein and Shahar Zaks. “This experiment defies the laws and traditions that have been established in bars and parties. It brings this environment into a total state of order and organized behavior. No more crazy lines or people fighting over who was there first, no more great looking girls that get to drink for free or get the bartender’s attention first, no more priority.”
No more humanity, you could almost say. But SuperUber doesn’t claim this is a better alternative to drinking, just a different one. Because what the Makr Shakr lacks in spirit, it makes up for in algorithmic organization.
“You can see what your drink contains, information about the ingredients, where they’re coming from and what they contain, and eventually insights into how your drink and you yourself are related to other drinks and people in the system,” the team explains. “The idea is to explore all these aspects that are part of the process but would normally be hidden from your sight.”
Much like a single tequila sunrise ordered at a wedding can spawn a whole room of copycats, so too can Makr Shakr drive the hive mind drinking experience. But rather than one-button “I’ll have what he’s having” interactivity, the system encourages conversation.
“Can you imagine a totally new drink becoming popular because this installation was set up during Milan Design week?” SuperUber asks? “In the end the technology is interesting, but the potential for social connections and interactions is what gives this project life.”