A robot bartender served me drinks - and while it's a cool gimmick, it won't be stealing jobs any time soon

Bionic Bar PouringMatthew Michaels/Business Insider

  • The Bionic Bar is a feature on several Royal Caribbean cruise ships.
  • Guests order drinks on a tablet and a mechanical arm prepares the cocktail.
  • Drinks cost $13 from the Bionic Bar, which has too many flaws to be anything more than a novelty for the time being.

A robot is serving you drinks ...

This is not the beginning of a pub joke. On a recent vacation aboard a Royal Caribbean cruise ship, my bartender was a bionic arm that compliantly took my order and shook up a cocktail.

Cruise line Royal Caribbean has started experimenting on several of its ships with the Bionic Bar. The bar and machinery is produced by Makr Shakr. The robotics team claims to have served nearly 310,000 drinks.

By 2030, 400 million jobs could be replaced by automation worldwide, a McKinsey study found. Service jobs are especially vulnerable to automation, but there is at least one job that's safe for now: At least from what I saw, mechanical bartenders aren't a threat.

Here's what it was like to be served by a robot:

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The Bionic Bar is just one of several bar options on each boat, so cruisers can sit and sip at a traditional bar if they prefer.

The Bionic Bar is just one of several bar options on each boat, so cruisers can sit and sip at a traditional bar if they prefer.

On the Anthem, the ship I sailed, all drinks from the Bionic Bar cost $13, the same as many drinks at the ship's other, human-run bars. A tip was automatically added to the bill — and that all went directly to the cruise instead of directly to a bartender.

On the Anthem, the ship I sailed, all drinks from the Bionic Bar cost $13, the same as many drinks at the ship's other, human-run bars. A tip was automatically added to the bill — and that all went directly to the cruise instead of directly to a bartender.

There are two bartenders and a corresponding tablet for each. Customers place their order on the tablet and pay with the room ID card used aboard the ship. Options include popular cocktails as well as some unusual concoctions.

There are two bartenders and a corresponding tablet for each. Customers place their order on the tablet and pay with the room ID card used aboard the ship. Options include popular cocktails as well as some unusual concoctions.

On each side of the bar is a digital display that shows the progress of drinks currently being made as well as the queue of upcoming orders.

On each side of the bar is a digital display that shows the progress of drinks currently being made as well as the queue of upcoming orders.

Spirits of all kinds — gin, whiskey, vodka, rum, you name it — are suspended from the ceiling. There are 153 bottles of liquor for the bar. Their position is input into the computer system so the robotic arms know which drink to get.

Spirits of all kinds — gin, whiskey, vodka, rum, you name it — are suspended from the ceiling. There are 153 bottles of liquor for the bar. Their position is input into the computer system so the robotic arms know which drink to get.

After placing a plastic cup on the bar, the bionic bartender starts making the drink by dispensing ice and mixers from an automatic nozzle. Juices, sodas, and sliced lemons and limes are added here.

After placing a plastic cup on the bar, the bionic bartender starts making the drink by dispensing ice and mixers from an automatic nozzle. Juices, sodas, and sliced lemons and limes are added here.

Once ice and a mixer are in the metal cup, the arm extends upward to reach the alcohol. The edge of the cup pushes against a nozzle that allows the perfect amount to be poured.

Once ice and a mixer are in the metal cup, the arm extends upward to reach the alcohol. The edge of the cup pushes against a nozzle that allows the perfect amount to be poured.

Once all the ingredients are together, the lid is sealed shut and the bionic arm can muddle, stir, shake, or strain the drink.

Once all the ingredients are together, the lid is sealed shut and the bionic arm can muddle, stir, shake, or strain the drink.

Once mixed, the arm pours the drink into the plastic cup it placed down at the beginning of the process. From start to finish, each cocktail takes about one minute to make, depending on what was ordered.

Once mixed, the arm pours the drink into the plastic cup it placed down at the beginning of the process. From start to finish, each cocktail takes about one minute to make, depending on what was ordered.

Although the cup is held firmly in place, some liquid still spills during the pouring process. A human employee occasionally mops up the bar and is available to assist customers in placing orders. The bar is often closed for cleaning and maintenance.

Although the cup is held firmly in place, some liquid still spills during the pouring process. A human employee occasionally mops up the bar and is available to assist customers in placing orders. The bar is often closed for cleaning and maintenance.

To ensure that only the person who ordered the drink can take it, the finished product remains at the far side of the bar until a room card is scanned at the edge. Once the ID is scanned, the drink is slowly brought to the edge for easy pick-up.

To ensure that only the person who ordered the drink can take it, the finished product remains at the far side of the bar until a room card is scanned at the edge. Once the ID is scanned, the drink is slowly brought to the edge for easy pick-up.

There are six spots for drinks so customers must pay attention and get their orders as soon as it is made. The drinks were fine, but not spectacular.

There are six spots for drinks so customers must pay attention and get their orders as soon as it is made. The drinks were fine, but not spectacular.

You can create your own cocktail, but you can't ask for a specifications like a specific kind of alcohol or substituting one juice with another.

You can create your own cocktail, but you can't ask for a specifications like a specific kind of alcohol or substituting one juice with another.

The entire process took longer than quickly grabbing the attention of a human bartender somewhere else. The robot bartender as it exists today is a novelty — not an effective alternative.

The entire process took longer than quickly grabbing the attention of a human bartender somewhere else. The robot bartender as it exists today is a novelty — not an effective alternative.
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