The robots are rising. But at least they’re making us drinks.
Or, at least, Cecilia is making us drinks. She looks like an arcade game but pours like an angel. She tells bad jokes, asks if you prefer fruity or classy cocktails and suggests the best way to drink tequila is as a shot with salt and lime even as she pours you a margarita. She’s about 7 feet tall, impervious to insults and can serve 120 cocktails an hour without breaking a sweat.
She can also check your ID, so don’t even try her.
Cecilia is the world’s first interactive robot bartender — an interactive AI mixologist, if you’re fancy like that — and she is currently infiltrating Florida International University’s Chaplin School of Hospitality & Tourism Management in North Miami. Her goal is not world domination or extinction of mankind. Nor is she plotting to steal the jobs of future bartenders.
Her job to teach hospitality students at FIU’S Bacardi Center of Excellence about technology and innovation in their chosen field — and, ultimately, to help businesses sell more drinks.
The idea of a robot bartender replacing human mixologists is “not even close to reality,” says Brian Connors, director of the Bacardi Center for Excellence and an FIU hospitality professor. “This is a defined mix of high tech and high touch hospitality. In this industry, we are always going to be people first. This is a team sport.”
What Cecilia offers is complementary. Think of her as a site-specific supplement to high-volume places, like sports stadiums, cruise ships or airport bars, where the lines for drinks are long and slow. At 120 drinks per hour, Cecilia can speed things up and sell more booze, so everybody’s happy. She’s even useful in smaller places, like a hotel bar after hours that might have thirsty guests post-closing time.
“We see it as helping bars that may have long lines,” says Nir Cohen Paraira, one of Cecilia’s creators. “We give people an option to take a drink whenever they want. She can work 24/7 every day of the week all year long.“
Paraira and CEO Elad Kobi started work on Cecilia.ai (the company’s official name) two years ago in Israel as a one-time project for events and conferences. She was a hit at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas in January and will make her public debut under the big tents Feb. 26 and 27 at the South Beach Wine & Food Festival on Miami Beach.
Cecilia can be customized for any occasion, Paraira says, including the drinks she serves, language (up to 40 of them), graphics and branding. She will have options for cashless payment and provide bar managers with dashboard analytics to show them what drinks are popular, what customers are asking her and what time of days are busiest.
There are limitations to her skills, of course. She can’t churn out ice or cocktail garnishes — limes, cherries, oranges — so those are always on the side, requiring human attention. She can only make drinks from 12 different liquids because she only has 12 containers internally, which means customers must order off her menu and not indulge in flights of alcoholic fantasy.
On the plus side, mixologists can load her up with delicious premixed drinks, like The Sunblazer, which earned the FIU Bartenders Guild a People’s Choice Award at the 2021 Art of the Tiki contest. It’s made from pineapple juice, lemon juice, Bacardi Ocho and honey syrup, among other ingredients. If the robot overlords churn out a lot of these, humankind will be too blissed out to fight back.
Cecilia also offers contactless interactions and can help businesses overcome labor shortages or staff sickness, crucial elements during a time of health and safety protocols.
Plus, she’s just kind of fun. Connors expects the robot to be a big hit at the food and wine festival and to star in many selfies.
“You can get a rum and coke anywhere,” he says, “but how often are you going to get it from a robot that tells bad jokes?”