I admit, I am a conservative guy. While I prefer the term “traditional thinker,” some people would call me an old curmudgeon. Sometimes the conflicts between my traditional thinking and current trends manifest themselves in bewildered thought. And for some reason that bewildered thought sometimes arises at just about any local coffee shop. 

Allow me to explain. 

I’ve never been particularly fond of tattoos but have come to accept that they are now mandatory accessories for anyone under the age of 35. People in that age group must now express their stubborn individuality by getting massive portions of their body inked just like all of their peers. While I am not an enthusiast, and wonder what all that ink will look like when it is a saggy 70 years old, I recognize that acceptance of such art has now worked its way into the traditional business world (ie: they can actually get a job). The thing that really makes me scratch my head, however, and something that seems more common with the greatest of tattoo enthusiasts, is the growing practice of piercings and body sculpting. 

I was in Seattle, Washington last week. It is a beautiful city, and if you’ve never been there, the phrase “people watching” takes on an entirely new meaning. My wife and I spent some time at the Pike Place Market. It is a cacophonous place; packed with locals and tourists as well as massive flower displays and flying fish (you have to be there to understand). If you’ve ever seen a Star Wars movie where they featured some bar or bazaar on some forlorn alien planet, the Pike Place Market is just like that, only weirder. You’ll see lots of people with large hoops in their nose, holes in their ears, and enough metal in their face that they look like a human pincushion. 

Hence the bewilderment. I find myself wondering, who would hire these people? And the answer was right there in the Pike Place Market. That is where the original Starbucks sits.

Of course, you don’t have to travel to Seattle and the Pike Place Market to see these uniquely adorned individuals. Starbucks and other local coffee specialty shops are a magnet for these employees, and they are probably in one near you right now.  

So, naturally, when I read about a new $25,000 robotic barista that has been developed, I was pretty interested.  Cafe X Technologies has designed a completely automated barista that can brew and serve 120 cups of coffee per hour. It was designed by the same people behind Dr. Dre’s Beats headphones and speakers. According to the article I read, the robotic unit is “essentially a fully operational café beneath a $25,000 six-axis animatronic arm. Customers place orders on a kiosk touchscreen or via the Cafe X app and receive a text when the drink is ready, after around a minute of preparation. Like at a regular coffeehouse, you get a multitude of beverage options: latte, single-origin espresso, matcha latte, cortado and so on, and with different types of frothy milk, including organic Swedish oat milk. Even the robot gestures are crafted to evoke a true coffee bar experience. As it presents each cup to customers, the machine offers a sweeping “ta-da!” gesture.”

This is wonderful news. It means I will no longer have to order my medium iced half-caff mocha caramel with light cream and chocolate drizzle from someone who looks like Edward Scissorhand’s little sister (honestly, I am a plain old black coffee guy, but you probably already knew that). It also means that my coffee will be prepared and served by something with slightly less metal in its face. 

I suppose that means we will be helping our environment, I am not sure. 

I really like the human elements they are putting into this robotic concept. The sweeping “ta da” hand gesture is a nice touch. Perhaps they can also program it to “leave a little space for cream” (about 3 inches) even if I tell it I don’t use cream. And if they can program it to spit in your coffee if you are a complete ass, they will have the real deal.

So, the march to automation continues. There will be no sick days, no on the job injuries, or raging infections from a piercing gone awry. The people with all the metal in their face and body may be replaced by robots, and will have to figure out where else they can be gainfully employed. On the positive side, unlike their unadorned brethren, they may actually be recyclable.

And that could be a beautiful thing for both the environment and us old curmudgeons, indeed. 

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